Monday, April 11, 2011

Medical Care for Families of Volunteers - The "Schmidt Collection"

It is impossible to completely separate military and civilian medical experiences during the Civil War. War—especially civil war—necessarily disrupts local populations through battles, disease, loss of income, the wounding and death of family and friends, and other impact.

During the Civil War, people on the homefront—especially women—participated in charitable “war work” which supplemented the activities of the government and the military medical establishment. Sustaining medical care at home, especially in rural areas, sometimes required the kindness of aid societies and the continued reliance on domestic medicine.

Where there was disease and poor diet, access to professional medical care was limited as increasing number of physicians gave their attention to the armies in the field. Even where doctors were available, some families—bereft of the support and income of husbands and fathers—had to rely on charitable organizations, especially to subsidize the cost of medical care. A number of local and state relief societies were organized to provide the funding.

Still, relief was not assured: recipients often had to provide proof of marriage and their husbands’ service and that the locality received “credit” for the enlistment; others societies required that beneficiaries swear that they had no alternative means of support. Recently, historian Dr. Judith Giesberg - in her excellent book An Army at Home - has written about another important string attached to relief: conforming to standards of respectability; she includes evidence that some women were denied aid for “not acting as a virtuous wife should.”

Below is a receipt in my collection for medical attention given to families of volunteers in Owen County, Indiana, by Dr. Benjamin A. Allison. Allison probably did not charge these families but instead tendered a bill to the local relief committee which approved his invoice and reimbursed him for the care.

You can learn more about Dr. Allison at a profile here.

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