Saturday, February 18, 2023

Rebecca Holiday Pomroy's Civil War


Massachusetts Project & the Quilt Index
An "Album Quilt" with dates of 1858-1861
made in Edgartown, Massachusetts

Rebecca Rossignol Holiday Pomeroy (Pomroy) (1817-1884)

Massachusetts-born Rebecca became a skilled nurse in Washington City during the Civil War.

She spent most of the war at the large building, a college commandeered for a hospital.
Surrounding Columbian College Hospital were tents & barracks converted into what 
was called the Carver General Hospital.

As we have learned the catch-all job title "nurse" included varied job descriptions ranging from Clara Barton's excellent administrational oversight, to women who supervised meals and supplies and Hospital Matrons like Rebecca who comforted men as she organized daily operations. She also scheduled activities for those healthy enough to participate but still too ill to return to the fight or their homes. 

In her biography she mentions an "album quilt" sent by "some ladies from the East" with inscriptions in the white center of each bright-colored square.

Jokes and puns:
"Why are soldiers like tea? Because, when in fire,
they are well drawn out."

Center of a soldiers' album from the International Quilt Museum collection

We don't know what became of the album quilt or what it looked like but there were some classic styles
with a spot for a name or a message in the center. Perhaps it was a Chimney Sweep design like this one.

Blocks Dated 1856-1862
New York

Aside from the necessary and emotionally draining work of comforting
teen-age boys dying of typhoid, measles and gastrointestinal disorders, Rebecca
organized the recovering patients into a nightly sewing circle where they
darned their fellow patients' socks.

She was a born nurse, having tended her own husband with chronic lung problems and sickly children.

Album quilt dated 1865, Pennsylvania

Album/sampler 1863
Elizabeth, New Jersey
One can imagine how much entertainment a sampler might provide to patients.

Spelling was variable but Rebecca's husband
Daniel's name seems to have been spelled "Pomroy."
Her maiden name: How many L's in Holliday?

When Daniel was healthy enough to work he was an upholsterer. He died a year before the Civil War began, leaving Rebecca with one surviving son. Like many others the family was probably afflicted with tuberculosis.

Dorothy Dix, who supervised Union nurses, kept an eye on Rebecca. A crisis at the White House when  the Lincoln children caught typhoid fever in winter, 1862 inspired Abraham Lincoln to ask Dix to recommend a nurse to help out. She chose Rebecca with her typhoid experience and notable empathy. Rebecca complained about leaving her soldiers but she was the perfect choice.

William Wallace Lincoln (1850-1862)

No one could save 11- year old Willie Lincoln who died at the end of February. Younger son Thomas (Tad) survived and Rebecca won the trust of both grieving parents who asked her to stay at the White House, which she did periodically throughout the war. Mary Lincoln, who suffered from what we might today call Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome, lay abed in agonizing grief for three months. 

Mary wore ostentatious mourning the rest of her life.

The President told Rebecca that Willie's death was his hardest trial. He found comfort in talking to a woman who'd lost two children and husband yet found peace and strength in Protestant principles. Rebecca went back to her hospital boys but periodically visited the White House when they needed her or she needed a rest.

Lincoln's assassination brought her back to the traumatized widow. Rebecca must have needed  consolation herself as she and the President were close friends, but once again stoical religion was her support. With the war over she returned to Massachusetts. Two years later she felt well enough to become matron at a home for girls, which became her work for the rest of her life.

The fate of her colorful album we do not know. Thousands were made to warm the soldiers; thousands lost.

Read more about the remarkable Rebecca:

1 comment:

FabricDiva54 said...

An excellent post about a very admirable woman. Such strength of character. Thank you.