Created in October 1861, the Chicago branch (later known as the Northwestern branch) of the United States Sanitary Commission was a privately funded effort to improve the morale, logistical support, and medical care of men serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. Judge Mark Skinner, a leading War Democrat, was the president, but as with most antebellum charities the officers relied upon “benevolent ladies” to handle the day-to-day operations of the organization. In the spring of 1862, the Chicago branch's operations were taken over by Mary A. Livermore and Jane C. Hoge, who quickly emerged as effective executives and able fundraisers. Under their direction, the Chicago branch sent a steady stream of medical supplies and food to the front.
The Chicago branch also established several Soldier's Rests, where troops in transit were treated to coffee and sandwiches. In July 1863, a Soldier's Home was founded to house men too sick or wounded to return to their homes. To fund these activities Hoge and Livermore organized Sanitary Fairs in 1863 and 1865. These popular charity bazaars became a model copied in most northern cities and succeeded in raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for the war effort. The Chicago office became the funnel through which most aid from the Midwest reached the front. After the war the movement for women's suffrage in Illinois was spearheaded by the women who first came to public service as managers and nurses with the Sanitary Commission.
Henshaw, Sarah Edwards. Our Branch and Its Tributaries; Being a History of the Work of the Northwestern Sanitary Commission. 1868.
Karamanski, Theodore J. Rally 'Round the Flag: Chicago and the Civil War. 1993.
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