This Week in History


Phoebe Yates Levy Pember given charge of Confederate military hospital

November 29, 1862
Phoebe Yates Pember
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Phoebe Yates Pember was a Richmond nurse during the Civil War. She served as the matron of Richmond's Chimborazo Hospital, reportedly the largest military hospital in the world in the 1860s.

Photo source: This photo is in the public domain.

On November 29, 1862, Phoebe Yates Levy Pember wrote a letter to her sister indicating that she was about “to take charge of one of the hospitals at Richmond.” In December 1862, she reported for duty at Chimborazo, a hospital for the care of Confederate soldiers in Richmond, Virginia. It was reputed to be the largest military hospital in the world up to that time. Pember oversaw nursing services in one of the hospital’s five divisions. In this role, she was responsible for the medical and dietary needs of over 15,000 men.

Pember had grown up in a prosperous and acculturated family in Charleston, South Carolina. Like most Jewish southerners and along with her siblings, she was strongly identified with the Confederate cause, and she received the invitation to serve as matron of Chimborazo Hospital from the wife of the Confederate secretary of war.

In A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, published in 1879, Pember described daily life at Chimborazo, detailing the poor state of the Confederate medical facilities. Fighting administrative disorder and unsanitary conditions, Pember was responsible for the nursing, caretaking, and feeding of over 15,000 men. At the end of the war in April 1865, Mrs. Pember stayed at her post so that her patients might be cared for during the transition from Confederate to federal control.

To learn more about Phoebe Yates Levy Pember, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.

See also: This Week in History for August 18, 1823, Birth of Confederate nurse Phoebe Yates Levy Pember; Jewish Women in the Military; Civil War in the United States.

Sources: Phoebe Yates Pember, A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond, edited by Bell Irvin Wiley (1879, reprint 1959); Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 1042-1043.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Phoebe Yates Levy Pember given charge of Confederate military hospital." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <>.