Fairport-E.Rochester Post
  • Civil War nurse remembered during national Women’s History Month

  • They lay screaming in pain, many with limbs half hanging off — if they were still there at all.

    There was little or no anesthesia, a few doctors and just one nurse — Mary Jewett from Seneca N.Y.

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  • They lay screaming in pain, many with limbs half hanging off — if they were still there at all.
    There was little or no anesthesia, a few doctors and just one nurse — Mary Jewett from Seneca N.Y.
    The wounded and dying soldiers in Tennessee Hospital No. 8 looked forward to her kind and caring face — the last thing many of them saw.
    It was during the Civil War. Mary Jewett was only in her early 20s. In fact, she’d needed special permission to serve as a nurse that young.
    One of the soldiers she cared for was Jacob Telford, a man from her hometown, whom she would marry after the war. They would spend their lives out West, but their bodies would be returned to final resting places in the East — Mary’s in the family plot in South Perinton Cemetery where she lies next to her mother, Hannah Southwick Jewett.
    Vicki Profitt of Pittsford has been researching Civil War soldiers since she visited the Pittsford Cemetery in May 2008, with Town Historian Audrey Johnson, and found that 85 are buried there. She’s researched every one and is writing a book.
    That venture led her to look for Civil War-era graves in the next town over — Perinton — where she was intrigued to find a United States flag placed on the grave of a woman.
    The flag was put there by Floris Lent, a descendant of the Jewett family who lives across the street, in the house where her mother was born.
    “My grandfather’s diaries used to talk about Mary Jewett,” she said. “I’ve been researching the Wilkinson family for years.”
    Lent is the great-granddaughter of Mary’s sister, Catherine Jewett Wilkinson, who had Mary’s body brought back to Western New York about nine months after she died. Accompanying the body, presumably, were many of Mary’s books and other mementos including ribbons she received as a member and president of the Woman’s Relief Corps, an organization she co-founded, which is still in existence today. It was an auxiliary of the Grand Army of the Republic.
    Lent, who’s also related to Susan B. Anthony, has documentation showing that Mary Jewett Telford was a close friend of Frances Willard, who, as second president of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, led the largest organization of women in the country.
    Lent has done a lot of her own research and has many books and documents, including the Jewett family Bible. She didn’t know much about Mary Jewett Telford, but she and Profitt have been exploring her history together.
    “I knew she was Aunt Kitty’s sister,” Lent said. “I didn’t know about her prominence until a few years ago; I knew bits and pieces. When (Profitt) starting asking me, I began pulling out all the stuff I had.”
    Page 2 of 3 - Mary Jewett was born March 18, 1839, in Seneca, the sixth of 10 children of Dr. Lester and Hannah Jewett. Her mother was a Quaker and both her parents practiced the temperance and abolition principles of the Quakers. The family moved to Lima, Mich., when Mary was about 7 years old. At 14, she became a teacher and moved to Kentucky in 1859, to teach French and music.
    When the Civil War, began less than two years later, she applied to be an Army nurse, but was rejected because of her youth. Profitt said the U.S. Sanitary Commission, (created to coordinate the war volunteer efforts of women), originally wanted women over 30 and homely, so as not to distract the soldiers. She said Mary’s father was a friend of then Michigan Gov. Austin Blair, who granted special permission for Mary to be a Union nurse.
    “She went down to Nashville and became a nurse at Hospital No. 8,” Profitt said. “She was the only woman in the hospital for eight of the 12 months she was there.” Profitt said there were 600 soldiers in the hospital. Mary visited each ward daily, caring for the soldiers and writing letters for them. She is one of the first women to be granted a Civil War pension — in an individual congressional order in 1892.
    Mary’s other post-war activities include being an author of children’s stories. She also toured the country, speaking on behalf of the WCTU, of which she and her sister Catherine were active members. The whole time, she had spinal difficulties and other health problems contracted during her service as a Civil War nurse.
    “I think for her time, she was a real progressive woman,” said Profitt. “She was a Civil War nurse, social activist, published author, teacher and a humanitarian.”
    For those reasons, Profitt nominated Mary Jewett Telford for induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, Seneca County. She won’t know until next year if Mary Jewett Telford will be included in the Class of 2011.
    Less is known about Jacob Telford, although Profitt found census records showing his family living in Seneca as early as 1840 and through 1910, so he and Mary would have been living in the same town in their early years, although it’s not known if they knew each other then.
    “We would like to think they renewed their childhood friendship when she nursed him back to health at Hospital No. 8 in Nashville, but we don’t know,” Profitt said. “What we do know is she returned to Lima, Michigan, in 1864 to marry him.”
    Telford enlisted in the Union Army on June 14, 1862, as a private in Company B, 15th Indiana Infantry. He died July 14, 1905, in Tennessee and is buried at Stones River National Battlefield, where he was wounded in 1862. Profitt said Telford’s parents, George and Sarah Telford, are buried in Old Number Nine Cemetery in Stanley.
    Page 3 of 3 - Mary Jewett Telford died Aug. 5, 1906, in Hinsdale, Ill. Lent said she had had some type of surgery in the months prior. She was originally buried in Illinois, but brought to Perinton the following May for re-interment in South Perinton Cemetery, where her sister, Catherine Jewett Wilkinson, and other family members are buried.

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