Euphemia Mary Goldsborough Willson

 (1836 - 1896)



Born in 1836 in Talbot County, Maryland, Euphemia Mary Goldsborough Willson had, by 1860 moved to Baltimore along with her parents, seven sisters, and one brother. As a child, Euphemia was bright, adventuresome, and quite creative, traits that would serve her well in the upcoming war. 

During the Civil War, Baltimore and Annapolis were under martial law. The Goldsboroughs, who were not slaveowners, were sympathetic to the southern cause and adhered to their political beliefs in the face of grave danger. Marylanders were looked upon with suspicion from both sides, placing Confederate soldiers from Maryland in particular danger as a result.

Euphemia devoted her youth to the southern cause and was one of the most dedicated individuals to represent Maryland's soldiers throughout the war, struggling to ensure that Confederate soldiers held in federal prisons received articles of comfort, both of food and apparel.

In 1862, Euphemia left the safety of her home to nurse in Frederick after the Battles of South Mountain and Antietam. In 1863, she worked in the fields and the general hospitals after the Battle of Gettysburg. It is of particular significance to note the absence of women nurses up until the Civil War. Women nurses were initially snubbed by a society accustomed to seeing women in the traditional bulky and confining attire customary for the period. However; these social pressures were soon forgotten once the work began in caring for the wounded and dying soldiers suffering miserably in field hospitals. As a pioneer in her field, she and her fellow nurses not only risked harassment from the surgeons and society, but exposed themselves to grievous peril from exposure, diseases, and sheer exhaustion.

As a nurse and humanitarian, Euphemia cared for wounded soldiers on both sides of the war; showing no partiality, but instead offering life-saving care, comfort and spirit. One example of her steadfast dedication is found in the selfless giving of her frail and exhausted body in the hope of saving one General Pattern, from Virginia, who having been wounded in battle was seen to have little chance of surviving his surgery. Survival rested on his being placed in an upright position to prohibit hernmoraging and eventual death. As no suitable prop existed, Euphemia offered herself as a support and he was tenderly placed against her back and secured. She sat void of movement throughout the night, but to no avail - he perished by morning.

Throughout the war years, Euphemia risked her own safety in her continued struggle to provide relief to those suffering and displaced when she became a driving force behind "underground" deliveries of food, supplies, and medicines into the prisons north of the Mason Dixon line and to hospitals south of the line. The consequences of this involvement led to her arrest in November of 1863 by Union soldiers and subsequent sentence of banishment for the remainder of the war. Days later she was escorted South under heavy guard, taking with her only two trunks and $225 in federal money. Even as her life was in great jeopardy, tucked away in one of her trunks were important documents she was able to deliver to Richmond. Euphemia writes in her diary of the
humiliation she felt during a strip search prior to her being sent to Richmond. She writes "...before starting was stripped of all my clothing, minutely examined by two Yankee women, open doors with all around Yankee soldiers laughing and jesting at my expense. If I live for half a century I can never forget the humiliation...". She was received warmly upon her arrival in Richmond. 

Throughout her stay she continued her struggle to provide needed supplies and medicine in addition to caring for the wounded in area hospitals. She returned home in July of 1865 and later married and bore five children. Her family moved to Summit Point, West Virginia. 

Her resolution, courage and kindness touched many lives. Helping to shape history, Euphemia Mary Goldsborough Willson exemplifies a woman of strong spirit and dedication, who overcame tremendous obstacles and cleared paths for others to follow.


© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2001