PEMBER, PHOEBE YATES
PEMBER, PHOEBE YATES (1823–1913), hospital superintendent during the American Civil War and author of a highly regarded memoir. Pember was born in Charleston, South Carolina, to the well-to-do Jacob Clavius Levy and Fanny Yates, the fourth of seven children. Widowed in 1861 when her husband, Thoman Pember, died of tuberculosis, she arrived in Richmond, Virginia, where her acquaintance with the wife of Secretary of War Randolph led to an offer to serve as superintendent or chief matron of one of the five "divisions" of Chimborazo Hospital, the largest in the world at the time and fated to treat 76,000 patients during the war. Each division consisted of around 30 wards housing 40–60 patients and another 20 or so Sibley tents for convalescents. Pember took up her duties in December 1862 and remained at her post until the collapse of the Confederacy in April 1865, walking through near-empty wards as "every man who could crawl had tried to escape a Northern prison."
Pember's memoir, A Southern Woman's Story (1879), tells of hospital life at a time when twice as many patients were dying of disease as were being killed in battle, neither the etiology of disease nor the principles of hygiene were understood, and the only surgical procedure known to physicians was amputation. In this environment, facing chronic shortages
B.I. Wiley, Introduction to Phoebe Yates Pember, A Southern Woman's Story (1959), with private correspondence appended; "History of Chimborazo Hospital, CSA," in: Southern Historical Society Papers, 36 (1908; reprinted 1991), 86–94.
[Fred Skolnik (2nd ed.)]
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