The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Southern Diarists

What kind of obstacles did Phoebe Yates Pember face?

She encountered any number of difficulties, many of which can be traced to the shortage of supplies, but some of which can be laid at the feet of her male colleagues. In her record, Mrs. Pember claimed that immediately upon her appearance at the hospital a story ran through the wards that “one of them had come,” meaning that a woman had dared to stick her face where only men belonged. There were serious difficulties in gaining the right to administer whiskey to the patients—the Confederate medical teams used whiskey for all manner of things—and in persuading male colleagues not to dose the patients with too much alcohol. There were also all sorts of occasions on which she was either propositioned or insulted by male colleagues, but none of this seems to have daunted her. Very conscious of her status as an aristocrat, Mrs. Pember slowly came to like and sometimes admire the common folk she ministered to more than the grandees of Richmond society. She did make appearances among the latter group, however; given her upbringing, it was only natural.

Phoebe Yates Pember was a Southern aristocrat from a Jewish family whose telling accounts of working in a Richmond hospital are recorded in A Southern Woman’s Story.


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