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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:
Civil War Unit

Lesson 2: Juliet Opie Hopkins: Superintendent of Alabama's Hospitals in Virginia

1. Background information for teachers:

 

One-fourth of the one million Southern men who fought in the Confederate army died of wounds or disease. Inadequate doctors and medical services, and lack of medicines contributed to this number. Also, the Confederate government was slow in setting up a medical service, therefore states authorized hospitals to be set up close to the battlefields. Nursing as a profession had not developed in Alabama before the war, except in Mobile where Catholic sisters operated a hospital. Nevertheless, during the war women provided much of the care for the sick and wounded. "Southern women always nursed family, neighbors, and slaves but never strange men. The war changed this social standard, and hospitals staffed by 'respectable ladies' of the community were established all over the state. " (Rogers, Ward, Atkins, Flynt, 200) One of these "respectable ladies," Juliet Opie Hopkins of Mobile, served as Matron and Acting Superintendent of the hospitals from 1861-1864.

 

The Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Virginia were established by an Act of the Alabama Legislature in November 1861. The legislature appropriated $30,000 to establish hospitals in Virginia to care for sick and wounded soldiers from Alabama, serving in the Army of the Potomac, later known as the Army of Northern Virginia. Subsequent legislation authorized the governor to establish a medical depot at Manasses Junction, Virginia, and to appoint "an efficient and skillful medical man" to oversee the receipt and distribution of food, clothing, medical supplies and money provided by the state, benevolent associations and private individuals for the benefit of wounded Alabama soldiers in Virginia. In December 1861, Governor John Gill Shorter appointed Judge Arthur Francis Hopkins to serve as Superintendent of Alabama Hospitals in Virginia. Because of his advanced age and poor health, Hopkins' wife, Juliet Opie Hopkins, served as the chief administrator of the three hospitals that were eventually established for Alabama troops in Richmond, Virginia. For several months prior to the official establishment of the hospitals, Juliet Hopkins had been collecting and distributing clothing and medical supplies and caring for wounded soldiers.

 

State funding for the hospitals was irregular and insufficient; Mrs. Hopkins was forced to rely on charitable donations from Ladies Aid Societies throughout Alabama and she donated nearly $500,000 of her own money for the maintenance of the hospitals. When the Alabama legislature ordered the hospitals closed and the property to be sold in December 1863, Mrs. Hopkins continued her exertions for several more months. She eventually returned to Alabama in 1864 and served as administrator of the military hospital at Camp Watts in Macon County. Her humanitarian efforts in behalf of Alabama soldiers were recognized by the Alabama legislature which authorized her picture to be printed on several denominations of state currency.

 

2. Learning Objectives:
Upon completion of this activity students should be able to:

 

1. Identify problems of supplying field hospitals during the Civil War.
2. Understand the importance of specialized skills of volunteers.
3. Evaluate the role of women in providing assistance during the Civil War.
4. Compare medical supplies used during the Civil War with those of today.

 

Suggested Activities:

 

1. Ask your students to discuss what qualifications are necessary for a nurse today.
2. Make a classroom set of Document 1. Distribute to students and ask them to read it silently or read it aloud.
3. Ask students to draft a reply from Mrs. Hopkins to Miss Lewis.
4. Ask your students if they think Miss Lewis would make a good nurse? Why or why not? Explain.
5. To find out if Miss Lewis was accepted as a nurse, let them read Document 2.
6. Today's volunteers for emergency services (fire fighting, nursing service, rescue squad) must be prepared to convince professionals of their suitability for service. Ask your students to draft a letter either to Mrs. Hopkins or a contemporary figure, describing their qualifications and reasons for wanting to serve.
7. Examine Document 3 and discuss the role of the Ladies Aid Societies in supplying hospitals.
8. Compare the list of hospital supplies sent from Autauga County in 1861 with current hospital supplies.
9. Examine Document 4 and compare the use of herbal medicine with contemporary medicine. Ask the students to find out what ailments the herbs were used to cure.
10. Read over Document 5 and 6. Select one person listed on the documents and write a letter to accompany his effects being sent to family members.
11. Examine Documents 7 and 8. What more do these documents tell us about medicine and patient care in the Civil War?

 

DOCUMENTS:

Document 1: "Letter from Miss L.D. Lewis to Mrs. Hopkins, 11 June 1861," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 1, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 2: "Letter from Miss L.D. Lewis to Mrs. Hopkins, 24 June 1861," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 1, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 3: "Letter from A.Cale to Mrs. Hopkins, 1 November 1861," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 2, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 4: "List of articles received at the hospital of the Alabama Reg't, Yorktown," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 10, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 5: "Effects of patients who have died in 2nd Alabama Hospital since 1st Jan. 1862," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 6: "Deaths," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 8, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 7: "Letter from M.H. Sanborn to Mrs. Hopkins, 26 May 1861," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 1, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.

 

Document 8: "Record of Deaths," Alabama Hospitals in Richmond, Administrative files, SG13406, folder 7, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.