Julia Moore, prin­cipal of Hillsdale Col­lege’s Ladies’ Department, wrote letters to sol­diers during the Civil War | “Hillsdale Honor” by Arlan K. Gilbert

When Hillsdale student Mary Barnum lost her husband during the Civil War, she ded­i­cated herself to doing all she could for the Union. She became an army nurse and used her widow’s pension of $20 per month to pur­chase medical sup­plies for the United States San­itary Com­mission.

Barnum was not the only Hillsdale woman who showed such devotion to the cause. Many who could not fight nonetheless did their part to support and tend to those who could.

According to “Hillsdale Honor,” a book by Hillsdale his­torian and former pro­fessor of history Arlan K. Gilbert, Barnum was attending Hillsdale when she married her husband Captain James Hawley on July 29, 1863. Less than two months later, Hawley died at the battle of Chicka­mauga.

Barnum was 22 and had recently com­pleted the Ladies’ Course at Hillsdale, according to a 1992 Col­legian article written by Gilbert.

“I know that were I near some bat­tle­field, I could accom­plish more good than here,” Barnum said after hearing of her husband’s death, according to the article. “I intend to get an edu­cation [bachelor’s degree] — but country and sick sol­diers first. Wounded men we do not always have with us, but Hillsdale College we do.”

The Chicago Tribune printed an article called “Nobly Done at Hillsdale, Mich,” which lauded Barnum’s selfless actions.

“Sure the republic need never despair while such pure devotion to the Union kindles the fires of patri­otism upon her altars,” the piece con­cluded.

Another noble student, Mary E. Blackmar, attended Hillsdale in the late 1850s. She studied med­icine, and rather than com­plete the required year of training in a regular hos­pital, decided to work as a mil­itary nurse. Although the age requirement was 30, the 21-year-old was still able serve.

In 1864, Blackmar was assigned to the largest Union field hos­pital, City Point, in Vir­ginia. There, she took charge of a Con­fed­erate ward near the front­lines.

In an 1892 issue of the Hillsdale Standard, a local political news­paper, Blackmar describes a visit from Pres­ident Abraham Lincoln and General Ulysses S. Grant.

“[Lincoln] went at once to a bedside,” she said. “[He] rev­er­ently leaned over almost double so low were the cots, and stroked the soldier’s head, and with tears streaming down his face he said in a sort of sweet anguish, ‘Oh, my man, why did you do it?’ The boy in gray said, or rather stam­mered weakly, almost in a whisper, ‘I went because my state went.’ Pres­ident Lincoln went from one bedside to another and touched each forehead gently.”

According to Gilbert’s book “His­toric Hillsdale College,” Blackmar would go on to graduate from the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia in 1867, which was the first of its kind in America. She prac­ticed med­icine until 1911.

Some women who stayed behind kept up the good fight from Hillsdale. Julia Moore, the prin­cipal of the Ladies’ Department, wrote countless letters to Hillsdale’s sol­diers.

“During the years of the war of the rebellion, her sym­pathy was deeply enlisted in behalf of the sol­diers, espe­cially for the large number who had gone from the college,” wrote The Hillsdale Advance in 1885. “Her cor­re­spon­dence with these was somewhat exhaustive.”

It is fitting that the Alpha Kappa Phi Society, which would ded­icate the Civil War memorial on campus 30 years later, made a toast in 1865 to honor the con­tri­bu­tions of the nurses, wives, and other women of Hillsdale, according the The Hillsdale Standard.

“[To] our lady friends, whose earnest support and encour­aging words mate­rially assisted us in earlier struggles, and whose smiles of con­grat­u­lation we have been proud to receive over our late tri­umphs,” the society said. “May they be strangers to every­thing but hap­piness.”