On April 15, 1861, the women of Bridgeport created the nation’s first soldiers’ aid society. News of the April 12 attack on Fort Sumter had quickly reached the citizens of Connecticut, and just as quickly, Connecticut’s women mobilized for war.
The Ladies’ Soldiers’ Aid Society in Bridgeport initially supported the Sixth Connecticut Regiment, but the needs of the war effort were many and constant throughout the war. The society met every week and its members, needing money to purchase cloth and other necessities, went from door to door to “try to wake up every one to a sense of sacred duty that devolved upon us all.” Newspapers reported the war and the government called men to the war, but these women took it upon themselves to become active participants in the war effort.
Clothing and bedding went to the soldiers, while soldiers’ families received cloth, clothing, and bedding, food and fuel. In the first year the society provided hospitals with 5,928 articles of clothing and bedding, 212 pairs of slippers, 80 dressing gowns, 108 bottles of brandy and wine (considered medicinal), 132 pounds of tea, sugar, and crackers, 69 pounds of soap and candles; 56 bottles of camphor, laudanum, and other drugs; 225 pounds of dried fruits, 110 quarts of jellies, and 2,086 “miscellaneous articles.” In later years the society arranged for free railroad transport of fresh vegetables and other provisions — some 1,500 barrels and boxes —to many Connecticut regiments along the Atlantic Coast.
The Bridgeport women did not cease their efforts when the war ended. The society, then 150 strong, renamed itself the Ladies’ Soldiers’ Monument Association, raising $10,000 toward the city’s Civil War monument. Dedicated in 1876, Bridgeport’s Soldiers Monument stands in Seaside Park, a testimony to the service of the city’s men and the devotion of the city’s women.
Shirley T. Wajda, PhD, currently an independent historian living in the Connecticut Western Reserve, is the creator and organizer of Viennapedia, a wiki devoted to the history and culture of her hometown, Vienna, Trumbull County, Ohio.