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Mary Jewett Telford, Humanitarian, Part 2

March 31, 2010

Mary Jewett Telford, courtesy Floris A. Lent

We pick up Mary’s story in 1870, six years after her marriage to sweetheart Jacob Telford.  The Telfords are listed in the 1870 census as living in Grinnell, Iowa.  Living with them were two girls, Mattie Stokes and Olive Montgomery.  Mary and Jacob adopted several girls who were orphaned during the Civil War.  Mattie and Olive seem to be two such girls.  This is the first, and only, census in which we see the names of these girls and they seem to have faded into history after that. 

A move from Iowa to Denver, Colorado, was made in 1873 in hopes of improving Mary’s asthmatic condition.  In Denver, Mary’s abilities took wing.  A writer since her teenage years, Mary’s short children’s story, “Tom”, was published in St. Nicholas magazine in 1880.  However, Mary’s watershed year seems to have been 1883.  In July of that year, Mary became a charter member of the Woman’s Relief Corps (WRC), an organization dedicated to assisting veterans, their wives and their children.  Amazingly, this organization is still in existence and is entering their 127th year of service.  Later the same year, Mary was appointed to the Child-Saving Work committee on the Board of Charities and Corrections.  Mary followed that stellar year with another worthwhile cause in 1884 when she founded, edited and published the Challenge, a temperance journal which espoused the ideas of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.).  In the late 1880s, Mary became the editor of the Colorado Farmer journal, while contributing articles in newspapers from cities around the country. 

The Committee on Invalid Pensions of the House of Representatives passed a bill on May 24, 1892 granting a pension to Mary Jewett Telford based on her service as a nurse during the Civil War.  Less than two weeks later, Mary applied for her pension.  The money was surely welcomed, considering that the Telfords’ income consisted of Jacob’s $8 a month government pension from his service in the 15th Indiana Infantry, and from any money Mary brought in with her writing and editing ventures.

Mary did not seem to lose any energy or enthusiasm for her humanitarian efforts as she entered the autumn of her life.  In fact, she continued writing and editing and began to tour the country as a lecturer on the temperance circuit.  She counted W.C.T.U. founder Frances Willard as a friend.  Sometime in late 1900 or 1901, Mary and Jacob moved once again, to McMinnville, Tennessee.  It was there, in 1905, that Mary’s beloved husband Jacob passed away.  In keeping with his wishes, Mary had his body brought to Stones River National Cemetery, the former battlefield on which he had been wounded years before, for burial.

Headstone of Mary Jewett Telford at South Perinton Cemetery

Less than twelve months after the loss of her husband of 41 years, Mary discovered she had a health issue which required surgery.  Sent to the Hinsdale Sanitarium in Hinsdale, Illinois for care, Mary Jewett Telford passed quietly away on August 5, 1906 following a critical operation.  She was buried in Illinois.  Nine months later Mary’s older sister, Catherine Jewett Wilkinson, brought Mary’s remains back East and interred her beside their mother Hannah Southwick Jewett at South Perinton Cemetery in Perinton, New York.

Information about Mary’s early life can be found on my March 18, 2010 blog post, “Mary Jewett Telford, Humanitarian, Part 1”.

Hero Highlight – Mary Jewett Telford, Humanitarian, Part 1

March 18, 2010

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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