Mary Jane Safford
Mary Jane Safford, 1831 - 1891
During the Civil War female nurses demonstrated so much courage and determination, that by the second year of the war they had earned as much status and esteem as Florence Nightingale did during the Crimean War. One such nurse was Mary Jane Safford.
Born in Hyde Park VT, then raised in Crete IL, Safford returned to Vermont for further education after her parents death. She then worked as a governess for a German family in Canada. Returning to the states, she lived with her brother in Cairo IL. When Mary Ann “Mother” Bickerdyke arrived at the fever-ridden field hospital in Cairo in the summer of 1861, 29-year-old Safford volunteered as a nurse’s aid. She proved to be very talented and dedicated and quickly became a full-time nurse.
Safford worked tirelessly for the diseased and wounded Union soldiers from the Battled of Belmont and Fort Donelson. Though overworked in the field hospital, she often went to surrounding camps to tend to the sick. After the Battle of Donelson, Safford worked with very little sleep for 10 days, ministering to the needs of the wounded men until she neared collapse. She then moved to nursing aboard the City of Memphis, a transport boat, until she had to return to her brother’s home because of her poor health.
Safford returned to nursing to help the wounded Union soldiers from the Battle of Shiloh, working on board the Hazel Dell, with appreciative patients dubbing her the “Angel of Cairo”. She then returned to working with Mother Bickerdyke in field hospitals in Savannah TN. In spite of hurting her back, Safford continued to over work until she suffered a physical breakdown and was confined to bed for months. Safford went to Europe to finish recuperating and then returned to the United States on the fall of 1866.
Safford went on to become an accomplished doctor with her own practice in Chicago. She married, divorced, and then taught at Boston University School of Medicine before dying in Tarpon Springs FL.