Heroines of Mercy Street Revisited

In 2016 Pamela Toler wrote Heroines of Mercy Street, a book about the "real nurses of the Civil War" as a companion for the first season of the PBS series Mercy Street.

Now that the second season is showing (Episode #4 on Sunday, Feb. 11, 8 pm), time for another peek at the book.

Pamela's book goes back and forth between the back story of Mercy characters (especially Mary Phinney and Anne Hastings) and more general information on CW nurses.

A few points from the book:

  • "Unable to imagine the scale of the coming devastation, the Union's Medical Bureau provided few medical supplies, made no provision for field hospitals, and made no plan for evacuating casualties. The Confederate army did no better." (pg. 39)
  • "[Dorothea] Dix's nurses and a score of informal female volunteers stepped into the chaos and began their work." (pg. 46)
  • "Mary [Phinney von Olnhausen] decided to volunteer as a nurse, or whatever else she could do to help the war effort. She wrote to anyone she knew who had any influence." (pg. 58)
  • "Anne Reading [Hastings, in Mercy Street] was a professional nurse, to the limited extent that such a thing existed at the beginning of the Civil War." (pg, 59)
  • "By the end of the war, Alexandria had thirty-three military hospitals of different sizes and designed for different purposes....One of those hospitals was the Mansion House Hospital, formerly [James] Green's Mansion House Hotel." (pg. 105) "Mary von Olnhausan's first impression of the hospital, several months later, was that it was loud, confused, and crowded." (pg. 106)
  • "Meeting a hostile doctor was almost a rite of passage for nurses as they arrived at a new hospital." (pg. 115) "Signs of progress and professionalism appeared as the war went on, one doctor and one nurse at a time." (pg. 119)
  • "Nurses began to define themselves as advocates for patients." (pg. 145)
  • "Civil War-era hospitals were breeding grounds for contagious diseases....[T]yphoid was the most deadly and most feared. It accounted for 17 percent of patient deaths in 1861; by 1865 that percentage had increased to 56 percent." (pg. 175)

Toler's book goes on to explain what happened to the real Mary Phinney and Anne Reading/Hastings. But with several episodes left of Mercy Street (no, I don't know how what is coming either), I will leave the account for now.

  The real-life Mansion Hotel Hospital on South Fairfax Street in Alexandria, where the TV series Mercy Street takes place.

The real-life Mansion Hotel Hospital on South Fairfax Street in Alexandria, where the TV series Mercy Street takes place.

 

 

 

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