Hero Highlight – Mary Jewett Telford, Humanitarian, Part 1

Mary Jewett Telford, courtesy Floris A. Lent

Here is the story of an incredible woman – daughter, teacher, nurse, wife, adoptive mother, author, editor, suffragette, humanitarian.  Her name was Mary Jewett Telford, and today would be her 171st birthday.

Mary’s story begins in Seneca, New York on March 18, 1839.  Mary’s parents, Dr. Lester Jewett and Hannah Southwick Jewett, were already parents to five children.  After Mary’s birth, another four children would join the Jewett clan.  Sadly, the Jewetts lost infants Ruth and Oakley within days of each in 1846, probably of diptheria or scarlet fever.  After their burial at Old No. 9 Cemetery in Seneca, the family made the decision to move to Lima, Michigan, to be closer to Lester’s brothers who had migrated there in the 1820s.

Mary was an exceptional child.  By the age of 14, she was teaching in the district school.  Later, she spent one year teaching at Morganfield, Kentucky, before returning home to Michigan.  It was there that her younger brother, William T. Jewett, enlisted in the 4th Michigan Cavalry.  Four months later, William was dead from typhoid fever.  Then Mary’s elder brother, Edward Jewett, joined the 124th Ohio Infantry.  Mary longed to assist the soldiers convalescing from their wounds.  Although she was denied a nursing position by the U.S. Sanitary Commission because she was too young, Mary persisted.  Michigan Governor Austin Blair, a friend of her father’s, gave her a special permit and Mary was off to war.

Working at Hospital No. 8 in Nashville, Tennessee, must have been exhausting for the young nurse who, for eight months, was the sole woman in the hospital occupied by six hundred soldiers.  Mary did her best to keep up with the requests for water and the calls for assistance of all kinds.  One of Mary’s duties was likely to have been the writing of letters for young men incapable of doing so themselves due to illness or injury.  How many letters did Mary write?  The answer is lost to history.  We do know that, on more than one occasion, soldiers sought her out many years after the war to thank her for being their angel during those dark days of war.  Mary was a strong woman, but even she could not withstand the constant lack of sleep and the strain of the stair climbing from ward to ward.  After a year, Mary left the nursing job she loved, shattered in health and spirits.

Her loved ones in Michigan awaited her return.  In addition to her family, there was a soldier who waited for Mary – her sweetheart, Jacob Telford, of the 15th Indiana Infantry.  Mary and Jacob married on July 8, 1864, at her home in Lima, Michigan.  We do not know when Mary and Jacob met.  Jacob, nearly six years older than Mary, was also native to Seneca, New York.  My romantic soul would like to think they had been childhood friends, separated when the Jewett family moved to Michigan.  Then, one day on her daily rounds at Hospital No. 8, she came across him again and recognized his clear blue eyes and shy grin.  Jacob had been severely wounded at Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  It is not a stretch to believe he may have been brought back to Hospital No. 8 in Nashville for treatment.  However it came about, they did marry and were not parted again until death.

There is much more of Mary’s story to come!  Check back soon for Part 2 of Mary Jewett Telford, Humanitarian.

Happy Birthday, Mary!

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One Comment on “Hero Highlight – Mary Jewett Telford, Humanitarian, Part 1”

  1. Vicki Profitt Says:

    An article about Mary Jewett Telford by Denise Champagne of the Messenger Post Newspapers was just published in the East Rochester – Fairport Post on March 20, 2010.

    http://www.fairport-erpost.com/feature/x1526472626/Civil-War-nurse-remembered-during-national-Women-s-History-Month


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