8 Wonders of Kansas people

An 8 Wonder of Kansas People

Mary Ann 'Mother' Bickerdyke, Bunker Hill, Ellsworth

Address: Bunker Hill, KS 67626
Phone: 785.472.3856
Website: personal.kitusa.com/adamsluandkeith/portrayals.htm

Mary Ann "Mother" Bickerdyke's heroic efforts as a nurse on the Civil War battlefield earned her great affection from veterans and later she was a pensioner and advocate for the veterans; and she helped many settle in Kansas.  1817-1901.

Mary Ann "Mother" Bickerdyke. Photo courtesy
Kansas Historical Society
Mary Ann Ball was born near Mount Vernon, Ohio in 1817. In 1847 she married Robert Bickerdyke and they moved to Galesburg, Illinois.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, residents of Galesburg, Illinois purchased medical supplies worth five hundred dollars for soldiers serving at Cairo, Illinois. Mary Ann Bickerdyke offered to deliver the money. Upon arriving in Cairo, Bickerdyke used the supplies to establish a hospital for the Northern soldiers. She spent the remainder of the war traveling with various Union armies, establishing more than three hundred field hospitals to assist sick and wounded soldiers. During battles, Bickerdyke commonly risked her own life by searching for wounded soldiers. Once darkness fell, she would carry a lantern into the disputed area between the two competing armies and retrieve wounded soldiers.

Both Generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman admired Bickerdyke for her bravery and for her deep concern for the soldiers. To assist the soldiers, Bickerdyke gave numerous speeches across the North, describing the difficult conditions that soldiers experienced and solicited contributions. The soldiers nicknamed her "Mother Bickerdyke" because of her continuing concern for them.

Source: ohiohistorycentral.org/entry.php?rec=32&nm=Mary-Ann-Bickerdyke

Mother Bickerdyke's Service Continued After the War

At the closing of the Civil War in 1865, Mother Bickerdyke was 48 years old. Her work serving Civil War veterans, "the boys," continued until her death in 1901 at the age of 84 years.

Immediately after the war, she cared for wounded soldiers at the Home for the Friendless in Chicago, Illinois. She soon saw that the young men, many disabled and without careers, were desperate for employment. She had heard about land to homestead in Kansas, so she rode the newly expanded railroad to its furthest point west, Salina. In Salina she built a boarding home on the 600 block of North Ninth Street, where she could sleep 33 and feed 110. She negotiated with the CB &Q Railroad for two years of free transportation for the veterans and their families and helped settle over 300 families in and around Saline County, and in Barton, Russell, Lincoln, Ellsworth, Ottawa, Stafford, and Rice counties.

While she was absent getting supplies, the railroad foreclosed on the boarding home because she had neglected to collect rent from the destitute boarders. She then left the state of Kansas for a period of years and worked elsewhere to assist the poor and needy.

Source: personal.kitusa.com/adamsluandkeith/saline_county.htm

After Mary's death in November of 1901 in Bunker Hill, her body was returned to Galesburg, Illinois to rest in the Linwood Cemetery beside her husband, Robert, deceased in 1859.

Mother Bickerdyke Marker in Bunker Hill.  Photo KSF


  • Bunker Hill Museum, one block east of the cafe in a limestone church. Find her piano, a quilt, and some information on Mother Bickerdyke inside and a marker outside. This is the Lutheran Church where Mary and her son James worshiped. Open Sunday 1:30-5 p.m. until October 22 or call 785.483.6185 for an appointment.


  • Bickerdyke Cemetery, From K-156 at Ellsworth, go west on K-14 and take the first turn north on Avenue L. Follow the sand road past the TV towers to a hilltop cemetery. Mother Bickerdyke isn't buried here but you'll find a memorial to her among the graves of wives of Civil War veterans. Thirty-two women were buried there from 1902 to 1910. In 1962 the cemetery was dedicated. The graves were not individually marked, so a stone was placed in the cemetery listing the names of all the deceased.
  • Mother Bickerdyke Home, 1156 K-14, Ellsworth, KS 67439. The Women's Relief Corp used the original buildings and 160 acres here as a self-sustaining home for the widows and orphans of Civil War veterans. They named the home in Mother Bickerdyke's honor in 1897. She never lived here but made many visits. In 1952 the home closed, and the remaining occupants were mustered out to the Dodge City Soldiers Home. Today, it's a retirement home and is called Good Samaritan Society - Ellsworth Village. You can see Mother Bickerdyke's name in the entrance arches.

Source: personal.kitusa.com/adamsluandkeith/ellsworth_county.htm.

  • In the Barton County Courthouse today are the Record Books of the Poor listing all the items Bickerdyke distributed to families devastated by a grasshopper invasion in 1874. She solicited over 200 train car loads of supplies from December 1874 to March of 1876. Source: personal.kitusa.com/adamsluandkeith/barton_county.htm

  • The Bickerdyke Elementary School, dedicated in 1962, is located at 348 N. Maple in Russell. James Bickerdyke, Mother Bickerdyke's son, was the first superintendent of schools in Russell.


  • Lu Adams of Ellsworth does historical portrayals of Mother Bickerdyke.