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Brady, Mary (1821–1864)

Brady, Mary (1821–1864)

Irish-born Civil War nurse. Born in Ireland in 1821; died in 1864, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; married a lawyer, in 1846; children: five.

The patriotism of Mary Brady, a volunteer nurse during the Civil War, was particularly noteworthy given that she was not an American. Born in Ireland, she immigrated to America with her husband in 1846. With no relatives in the war, Brady was evidently driven by charitable motives and periodically left her home in Philadelphia, and her five small children, to endure the hardships of the front lines and field hospitals, tending to the sick and wounded.

In July 1862, Brady and a few others began volunteering at the Satterlee Hospital in West Philadelphia, where some 3,000 soldiers were housed in less than ideal quarters. Headed by Brady, the small group organized into a Soldiers' Aid Society with the purpose of visiting hospitals, evaluating needs, and distributing supplies from a central-supply depot. For some months, their activities were limited to daily rounds of Philadelphia-area hospitals. In November, they organized a Thanksgiving dinner for some 1,600 soldiers, soliciting contributions and overseeing preparation and distribution (in covered wagons) of enormous amounts of food.

As news of Brady's work became known, Soldiers' Aid Societies sprung up across the state. More and more donations began to arrive in Philadelphia, entrusted to Brady for distribution. Not content to leave the contributions with unknown agents, Brady set out to personally distribute the supplies to field hospitals in Alexandria. Her journeys took her to some 40 military hospitals in and around Washington, bringing her in contact with 30,000 sick and wounded. At several of the Alexandria hospitals, she was the first woman ever to visit. She went further into the front lines of fighting, at one point on a four-mule wagon, stopping wherever a red flag indicated a sick tent.

Over a two-year period, Brady alternated trips to the front lines with respite at home in Philadelphia, where she became well known for her charitable work. In 1864, after her fifth trip to the front, she arrived home worn out and was diagnosed with a weak heart. Although never again well enough to travel, she continued to administer collections in Philadelphia when she could. Upon her death in May 1864, at age 42, hundreds of soldiers attended her funeral. Others sent tributes expressing appreciation for her work on their behalf.


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

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