Monday, April 24, 2023

Booknotes: No Place for a Woman

New Arrival:
No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame's Civil War by Mike Pride (Kent St UP, 2022).

From the description: "In June of 1861, 46-year-old Harriet Patience Dame joined the Second New Hampshire Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a matron." Mike Pride's biography No Place for a Woman: Harriet Dame's Civil War "recounts her dedicated service throughout the Civil War. She camped with the regiment on campaign, nursed its wounded after many major battles, and carried out important wartime missions for her state and the Union cause." Those additional missions included "running a busy soldier-aid agency in Washington, making medical inspection tours for her state's governor, and supervising the kitchen and the nurses at a huge field hospital near the front..." (pg. 8-9). Her public activities related to the Civil War did not end with the war itself. "Late in the 19th century, she battled alongside her friend Dorothea Dix to overcome prejudice against bestowing pensions on women who nursed during the war."

More from the description: No Place for a Woman "traces Harriet Dame’s service as a field nurse with a storied New Hampshire infantry regiment during the Peninsula campaign, Second Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor. Twice during that service, Dame was briefly captured. In early 1863, she spent months running a busy enterprise in Washington, DC, that connected families at home to soldiers in the field. Later, at the behest of New Hampshire’s governor, she traveled south by ship to check on the care of her state’s soldiers in Union hospitals along the coast. She then served as chief nurse and kitchen supervisor at Point of Rocks Hospital near Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters in Virginia. Dame entered Richmond shortly after the Union victory and rejoined her regiment for the occupation of Virginia. After the war, she worked as a clerk in Washington well into her 70s and served as president of the retired war nurses’ organization. She also became a revered figure at annual veterans’ reunions in New Hampshire."

In determining how best to present this biography, Pride "decided the best course was to blend her experiences with those of the soldiers she befriended and helped", believing that "(o)nly by understanding their ordeals, defeats, and triumphs is it possible to comprehend hers." Additionally, those she encountered during her duties "became valuable witnesses to her character and resolve" (pg. 9).

The book "draws on newly discovered letters written by Harriet Dame and includes many rare photographs of the soldiers who knew Dame best, of the nurses and doctors she worked with, and of Dame herself." No Place for a Woman "argues that in length, depth, and breadth of service, it is unlikely that any woman did more for the Union cause than Harriet Dame."

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