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Bradley, Amy Morris (1823–1904)

Bradley, Amy Morris (1823–1904)

American educator, Civil War nurse, and administrator. Born on September 12, 1823, in Vassalboro, Maine; died on January 15, 1904, in Wilmington, North Carolina; fourth daughter and youngest of eight children of Abired (a shoemaker) and Jane (Baxter) Bradley.

A frail child given to bronchial attacks, Amy Bradley lost her mother when she was six and lived with her older married sisters until the age of 15, when she began a teaching career. Working in the public-school system, Bradley also taught privately to help finance her studies at the academy in East Vassalboro. At 21, she was named principal of a grammar school in Gardiner, Maine. She then moved to higher paying positions in Charlestown and Cambridge, Massachusetts, until severe bronchitis forced her to accept a position in the restorative climate of San José, Costa Rica, where she opened an English School for children of various nationalities. After three successful years, she was called back to New England by her father's illness.

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, Bradley offered to serve the Union effort as a nurse with the Maine volunteers. She began her duty at Alexandria, Virginia, in the regimental hospital tents of the 5th Maine Regiment. Bradley's skill in organizing and outfitting a hospital were quickly noticed, and she was named superintendent of the brigade hospital. She tended to her administrative duties, which included finding people to cook and do laundry, and took a personal interest in her patients, some of them former students. When the hospital was dismantled, Bradley volunteered for the Sanitary Commission and was appointed superintendent of the floating hospital Ocean Queen, where she helped care for some 1,000 patients on their way to New York from the battlefields. Bradley's diary reveals her renewed horror at each new arrival of wounded: "I shall never forget my feelings, as, one by one, those mutilated forms were brought in on stretchers, and carefully placed on these comfortable cots. 'What,' said I, 'must I see human beings thus mangled? O, my God, why is it? why is it?'" Bradley subsequently served as superintendent on a number of other transport boats until the end of the Peninsula campaign.

In 1862, she was assigned as matron and administrator of a Soldiers' Home in Washington, D.C. Late that same year, Bradley was transferred to her most challenging assignment, a neglected convalescent camp dubbed "Camp Misery," where she oversaw the needs of some 5,000 soldiers. In addition to supervising housekeeping needs, Bradley helped the men with practical matters, like letter writing and filing paperwork for back pay claims. In 1864, after some time off to recuperate from an illness caused by overwork, she initiated a weekly Soldiers' Journal, with profits going to orphans of soldiers who had been at the camp.

After the war, Bradley turned her attention to the educational needs of the ravaged South. Under the auspices of the Soldiers' Memorial Society of Boston and the American Unitarian Association, she opened a school in Wilmington, North Carolina, for poor white children. The project was slow to start, requiring visits to the homes of the poor to distribute clothes and supplies and encourage parents to send their children to school. After three years, she had won the support of the city and had expanded her original classroom of three to a school for seventy-five. With a generous contribution from philanthropist Mary Porter Tileston Hemenway and another from the Peabody Fund, Bradley built additional schools. In 1869, she was named superintendent of the newly restored school system. Three years later, again with Hemenway's help, she opened Tileston Normal School in Wilmington to train local women for teaching positions. Ill health forced Bradley to retire in 1891. She spent her declining years in a cottage that Hemenway provided for her on the grounds of the Tileston School. She died in 1904 and was buried in Wilmington.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Moore, Frank. Women of the War. Hartford, CT: S.S. Scranton, 1866.

Read, Phyllis J. and Bernard L. Witlieb, ed. The Book of Women's Firsts. NY: Random House, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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