THE HISTORY of this blessed and most successful work cannot be even briefly sketched, without going back and giving some of the steps which led to its foundation.
Among all the noble women who gave themselves to the sanitary work of the war, perhaps few were more peculiarly fitted for forming and carrying out plans than Mrs. C. A. P. HARVEY. Just at her entrance upon womanhood, she had been left the eldest of a family of motherless girls, over whom she exercised a tender care even after her marriage.
The thrill of horror with which the people of Wisconsin learned that their Governor, LOUIS P. HARVEY, had been drowned at Savannah, after the frightful battles of Pittsburg Landing and Shiloh, was one of those things never forgotten. His self appointed work had been the care of our soldiers in that fearful crisis, and out of this grew the career of his stricken wife. Denying herself the usual period of seclusion for the indulgence of a widow's grief, she, at her own request, received from her husband's successor, Governor SALOMON, a commission to act as one of the sanitary agents of the state.
In the performance of duties thus assumed by her, she found many northern men languishing in southern hospitals, whose lives depended upon their removal to a more invigorating climate. Becoming convinced of this, she went to Washington, and by her own almost unaided efforts procured the establishment of a convalescent hospital at Madison, Wisconsin.
This portion of Mrs. HARVEY's work forms no necessary part of our story, so we must reluctantly pass in silence over many incidents, and her most interesting interviews with President LINCOLN, the particulars of which are to be found elsewhere.
The building thus used and known as Harvey Hospital, had been built for a residence by Governor FARWELL, and by its high, spacious and airy rooms, with ample communication between them, was admirably fitted for hospital purposes. After it was no longer needed for this use, Mrs. HARVEY conceived the idea of converting it into a home for soldiers' orphans.
Upon her return from the south, in 1865, she brought with her a half dozen orphans of the war, whom she had picked up, not inquiring on which side their fathers fell. Chiefly through her persistency and indomitable will, the U. S. government was induced to convey to the state of Wisconsin the three wings which had been rented as hospital wards, and all the fixtures and supplies, provided the state would purchase the building and grounds. Before, however, this arrangement was completed, necessary funds were raised by private subscriptions, and the Home was opened Jan. 1, 1866, with eighty-four orphan inmates, and Mrs. HARVEY at its head. It became a state institution March 31, 1866. A board of trustees was appointed, and Mrs. HARVEY confirmed in her position as superintendent. Thus through the persevering efforts of one woman, Wisconsin was led to keep the promises made to brave fellows as they enlisted: "We will take care of your wives and children."
Were we writing a story of man's work, other names might be mentioned, preeminently that of B. F. HOPKINS, M. C., who gave efficient aid, and was an active and untiring member of the board of trustees, until death ended his labors.
Mrs. HARVEY retained her position, giving a personal supervision to every smallest detail, and knowing every child by name, although their number rapidly mounted to nearly three hundred, but when it was securely established, she resigned, in May, 1867. After this time the office of Superintendent was filled by gentlemen, whose wives acted as Matrons, giving in all instances their whole strength and energy and the tenderest care to their work. Mr. and Mrs. F. B. BREWER and Rev. I. N. CUNDALL had each a brief authority, and upon the resignation of the latter, W. P. TOWERS was their successor, and his wife Mary Towers, as Matron, gave her utmost sympathy and industry to making the children comfortable and happy. Women were always employed as teachers, and, in nearly all, if not in all, cases it was a labor of love, in which the time out of regular hours was given to the effort to supply the place of real mothers to these bereaved ones.
Upon the resignation of Mr. and Mrs. Towers, in March, 1872, Mr. and Mrs. R. W. Burton were selected to fill their places. Larger numbers of the girls were now approaching womanhood, and, like her predecessors, Mrs. Burton spared no exertions to surround these children with elevating and refining influences, in which she was sustained by her husband, and they were eminently successful. A few more years would have completed the work and sent the youngest soldiers' orphans out in some measure prepared to fill useful positions in the world. Retrenchments were, however, deemed necessary, and in 1874 the work of the Soldiers' Orphans' Home was brought to a close. Mr. and Mrs. Burton exerted themselves to the last, finding homes for those who were still incapable of self management. Of each of these "mothers" we may truly say, "Her children shall arise and call her blessed."
Seven hundred children were thus cared for, clothed and educated, and it must be conceded that they were made to feel themselves the objects of a peculiar regard, and thus peculiarly bound to live useful, honorable lives.
S. F. D.
MADISON, WIS., March 1, 1876.