The Comfort Quilt
by Becky Brown
by Becky Brown
Woven comforters warmed many patients
The Comfort Quilt pattern, given that name in the Kansas City Star in 1940, has two meanings. The patchwork looks like a geometric woven comforter pattern---bedcoverings were often called comforts in the 19th century. The design can also serve to remember Dorothea Dix and the Civil War nurses on both sides who comforted the wounded and ill.
From the National Portrait Gallery
at the Smithsonian Institution
On April 22, 1861 the Union Secretary of War accepted social reformer Dorothea Dix's offer to organize an "Office of Women Nurses." Despite disapproval from female society and from male doctors who believed women did not belong in hospitals, Dix recruited thousands. Women answered her call for nurses who were "sober, earnest, self-sacrificing, self-sustained, calm, gentle, quite active and steadfast and willing to take and to execute the directions of the surgeons."
A nurse and her patients take the air
in Fredericksburg in 1864
Dix's reputation has suffered from the backlash of ridicule that often results from a woman's assuming a position of power. Diarist George Templeton Strong described her as a "philanthropic lunatic," and journalist Jane Swisshelm called her "a self sealing can of horror tied up with red tape."
Dix devoted her life to reform,
first in the care of the mentally ill
and then with Army hospitals
Even those who respected her agreed she could be dictatorial and demanding. As nurse Georgeanna Woolsey put it,
"We have had an encounter with Miss Dix, that is rather the way to express it. Splendid as her career has been, she would succeed better with more graciousness of manner."
A field hospital with a nurse second from right.
She has been identified as Cornelia Hancock.
Don't tell Miss Dix about that hoopskirt.
Dix's Plan for Nurses outlined the rules:
"No women under thirty need apply to serve in government hospitals. All nurses are required to be plain-looking women. Their dresses must be brown or black with no bows, no curls, no jewelry and no hoop skirts."
Charlotte Wilson in
soon heard of the nurse recruitment: New York
"I went this morning to the Cooper Institute to see the operation of an admirably organized society for the relief and aid of the sick and wounded soldiers. This society is in communication with Miss Dolly Dix who informs them of the wants of the
….There is an organized body of Nurses, being trained here in the Hospital. One of the first questions asked a woman who is ambitious to become a Nurse is whether she is over thirty. None under that age are accepted. It is wonderful how many find it impossible to confess they are over thirty." Washington Hospital
We smile today with Charlotte at all the obstacles put in the way of the women who wanted to help. In this first month of the proposed 30-day war, no one had any idea what lay ahead in the hospitals.
Cutting an 8" Finished Block.
Scraps of indigo blue prints would add to the
look of a woven coverlet. The pattern is BlockBase #2031
A- Cut 8 blue squares 2-1/4"
B- Cut 4 light rectangles 2-1/4" x 5".
C- Cut 4 light rectangles 2-1/4" x 1-1/2"
D- Cut 1 blue square 1-1/2"
C- Cut 4 light rectangles 2-1/4"
Read more about the role of nurses in Chapter 5 of my book Civil War Women. Click here for more information:
Several nurses published their memoirs and diaries in the 19th century. Read Louisa May Alcott's Hospital Sketches at Google Books by clicking here:
And Georgeanna Woolsey's Hospital Days by clicking here: