Julia P. Kendall, Plymouth Civil War Nurse

The Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown where Julia Kendall was employed

The Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown where Julia Kendall was employed (Library of Congress photo)

Julia P. Kendall (1825-1874) was one of a very few women from Plymouth, Massachusetts who served as a nurse during the Civil War. She was part of a prominent family. Her father, Rev. James Kendall, had been the long-time pastor of Plymouth’s First Parish Church.

She departed Plymouth to sign up as a nurse in June 1862. Reaching Washington on June 25, 1862, she applied to Dorothea Dix, Superintendent of U.S. Army Nurses, and was assigned to the Union Hotel Hospital in Georgetown.

A fellow Massachusetts nurse, Hannah Ropes, worked with Kendall at the Union Hotel Hospital and mentioned Kendall several times in her journals. Ropes said Kendall was “endowed with the same spirit” as the disciples “of Him who thought it not beneath Him to wash his disciple’s feet.”[1]

Ropes wrote proudly of one incident involving, “our little mite of a Miss Kendall.” They had learned that a hospital steward at the Union Hotel had begun locking patients he perceived to be unruly in the cellar. Ropes and Kendall were so disgusted with this injustice that they petitioned army generals and ultimately the Secretary of War. Miss Kendall, Ropes wrote, “was not the person to look on and see so gross a wrong. No!” When Ropes asked if Kendall would visit the War Department with her, Kendall responded, “Yes, I’m sure I will go anywhere is there is even the slightest prospect of redress; I see how utterly impossible it has become to sit idle any longer.”[2]

The two did, in fact, successfully petition Secretary Stanton and the steward was arrested. Ropes wrote, “Two lighter hearted creatures than Miss Kendall and myself could not be found…It was a frightfully grand scene to see the [amazement] of the steward, the joy of the men and the pale terror of the head surgeon.”[3]

A remarkable letter written by Nurse Kendall was published by the U.S. Sanitary Commission and sheds light on her reasons for becoming a nurse:

“When I first thought of coming into hospital life, it was with the idea of being with our own soldiers, Massachusetts men, or those from our own Plymouth Rock, bearing the name of the Old Pilgrim Soldiers who stepped upon it from the Mayflower in 1620. I felt as if I belonged to them…As the ambulances drove up to the door, bringing the wounded men…do you think I stopped, then, to ask from what regiment they came? How many Massachusetts men there were among them? No, I did not stop for anything, but I felt…that the dust and stain of the battlefield, made them all sacred in my eyes. I thought only how bravely and faithfully they had done their part, and the time had come now for me to do mine…I realized boundary lines were all forgotten States—as if they had never been— we were only children of one country—a country we loved better than life itself.”[4]

[1] Hannah Anderson Ropes, ed. John R. Brumgardt, Civil War Nurse: The Diary and Letters of Hannah Ropes, (1993), p. 54
[2] Ropes, p. 83.
[3] Ropes, p. 85.
[4] The Sanitary Reporter, January 1, 1864.

About Patrick Browne

I am a PhD candidate in History, former historical society and museum director of roughly 20 years, an author, and quondam Civil War reenactor. I specialize in early American History, particularly the Civil War era. View all posts by Patrick Browne

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