November 18: Mary Appleton Foster (1913)

Mary Appleton Foster was an Army nurse during the American Civil War. For two weeks at the end of November 1862, Foster was assigned to Epiphany General Hospital, the name given to the Church of the Epiphany when it was converted into a military hospital during the war. Foster was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire in 1829. During the summer of 1862, she was the Treasurer of the Ladies Soldiers Aid Society in Portsmouth. She left Portsmouth for Washington, D.C. on September 5, 1862 and once there stayed with some friends and began working as a nurse at a hospital that had been set up in a church on H Street. She fell ill and left Washington for a few weeks and that hospital closed. When she returned she went to Dorothea L. Dix and received an appointment as an Army nurse. She served at Epiphany General Hospital from November 21, 1862 to December 5, 1862, and then General Hospital, Fairfax Seminary (Virginia Theological Seminary) between December 1862 and April 1863. She then returned home to Portsmouth for a few months.

In October 1863 she accepted an invitation to go to St. Louis and work for the Western Sanitary Commission. She went from there to Nashville for a brief time, then down to New Orleans to help take charge of the Soldiers Home there. She sought and obtained a position with the 13th Army Corps Hospital that was in a huge cotton press. By March 1864 most of the patients had been sent north and the rest were sent to the Marine Hospital where she worked until June 1864. In 1865 she was at Finley and Harewood General Hospitals om Washington, D.C. In 1871 she and some other members of the Unitarian Church in Portsmouth founded a Young People’s Union and collected over 1000 books. When it closed in 1874 the books were stored in the basement of the Unitarian Church. In 1880 she came up with the idea of lending these books to the people of Portsmouth. After getting a temporary room at the Custom House, the Portsmouth Public Library opened on January 1, 1881, with Foster as one of the founders.

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