Washington DC: October 5, 1865. 2 page Autograph Letter Signed on one sheet bearing the letterhead of the Office of Women Nurses, U.S. Hospital Service (measuring 5 x 8" folded). Soiling along main fold and original mailing folds to rear. Offsetting to second page from ink on page 3. Writing at the conclusion of a bloody nine-month campaign that foreshadowed modern trench warfare, medical activist and reformer Dorothea Dix gives comfort and support to a panicked father as he searches for his son missing in action.
Dix writes in full:
"Mr. Otto, I have rec'd your letter and have through the records of various offices traced your son to a General Hospital wounded at the last Battle before Petersburg. I hope in a few days to have other information. I should suppose that some Member of his Company or the Regimental surgeon might know something. I will do all I can to learn the facts & write again shortly.
Dix had begun her medical career before the Civil War, inspired by British prison reformer Elizabeth Fry to play a direct role in social welfare. The cause for which she became best known was related to American asylum reform, and for petitioning the U.S. government to ensure the humane and dignified treatment of the mentally ill. By the time war broke out in 1861, Dix had become a nationally known figure and was appointed Superintendent of Army Nurses to the Union Army -- a position for which Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female M.D., had also been considered. In this position, Dix implemented the Federal army nursing program, developing guidelines, training nurses, and ultimately overseeing over 3,000 women (Tsui). By August 1865, following the incredibly bloody Siege of Petersburg, Dix resigned her position. Thus, though she writes to Mr. Otto on her official letterhead, the assistance she is providing him was not mandatory or conducted in an official capacity; rather, she sees the grief and concern of a father whose son has gone missing, and she uses her resources to provide succor and information. The Siege of Petersburg, after all, lasted from the summer of 1864 to the spring of 1865, forcing men on both sides to fight in trenches and resulting in an estimated 28,000 dead and 42,000 wounded, one of whom was Mr. Otto's son (Calkins).
A letter with activist content, capturing Dix's lifelong commitment to social activism regardless of her title or office. (Item #3204)