Phoebe Yates Levy Pember given charge of Confederate military hospital
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.
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. "Phoebe Yates Levy Pember given charge of Confederate military hospital." (Viewed on December 4, 2016) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/nov/29/1862/phoebe-yates-levy-pember>.