Lecture - A Season with the Army: Civil War Nurse Harriet Eaton, 10/26
October 17, 2013
Continuing our fall series of Civil War lectures, at 2 PM on Saturday, October 26, we welcome to the Museum Jane Schultz, Professor of English, American Studies, and Women’s Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis. Her topic will be "A Season with the Army: Civil War Nurse Harriet Eaton and New England’s Role in Medical Relief Work," based on her 2010 scholarly edition, This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton. Admission is free, thanks to the generous support of the Ruby W. and LaVon P. Linn Foundation.
Jane Schultz, the nation’s expert on Civil War nursing, will discuss a New England woman’s critical role on the battlefields of Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. Harriet Eaton was born as Harriet Hope Agnes Bacon in 1818 in Newton, MA. Her marriage to Baptist minister Jeremiah Sewall Eaton was followed by relocation to Portland, ME, where her husband led the Free Street Baptist Church. She was one of the first volunteers to enlist in the Maine Camp Hospital Association, an aid organization established by the church in October of 1862, in the wake of the Battle of Antietam. One of a handful of women who served as regimental nurses, she led a transient existence, roving the field hospitals that grew as battles raged.
Harriet Eaton’s diary and papers offer insight into the experience of the twenty-one thousand women who served in Union military hospitals. Her uncensored nursing diary is a rarity among medical accounts of the war, showing the diarist to be an astute observer of human nature. She struggled with the disruptions of transience, scarcely sleeping in the same place twice, but found the politics of daily toil even more challenging. Though Eaton praised some of the surgeons with whom she worked, she labeled others charlatans whose neglect had deadly implications for the rank and file. If she saw villainy in her medical colleagues, she also saw her service as an opportunity to convert the soldiers who were her patients. The diary stands in contrast to accounts of women's hospital work published as post-war memoirs, which were often carefully crafted narratives attentive to conventions of propriety and commemorative practice.
Jane Schultz is also the author of Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America (2004). In that work, she shows that women war workers during the Civil War era were not all white and middle class. Women without middle-class advantages and African-American women also served as hospital workers, though women like Harriet Eaton left a stronger paper trail. On one hand, women of middle-class origin had to struggle against the belief that nursing wounded soldiers was an improper role because it exposed them to so many men and so much horror. On the other, they showed themselves eager to maintain race and class boundaries between themselves and the other women around them.
Schultz will be available after the talk to sign her book This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton.
The final lecture in the series is:
"'Not that this is Going to Be a Real War': The Civil War, the Marshall House Flag, and Elmer Ellsworth’s Martyrdom" by Robert Weible, State Historian, Chief Curator, New York State Museum on Saturday, November 9, 2:00 pm.
For further information, contact the Museum at (781) 861-6559. www.monh.org.
Courtesy of Jane Schultz.
Field hospital near City Point, Va. (1861-1865). NYPL Wallach Division: Photography Collection. Digital ID: 114682.