Russell County Heritage Marker
Mary Ann Ball was born near Mount Vernon, Ohio in 1817. She married Robert Bickerdyke in 1847 and they moved to Galesburg, Illinois.
At the outbreak of the Civil War the residents of Galesburg purchased medical supplies worth $500 for soldiers serving at Cairo, Illinois. Mary offered to deliver the money. In Cairo Mary used the supplies to establish a hospital for the soldiers. She spent the remainder of the war traveling with various Union armies, establishing more than 300 field hospitals to assist sick and wounded soldiers. Mary commonly risked her own life during battles while 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 soldiers. To assist the soldiers, Mary 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.
Following the war's end in 1865 Mary worked for the Salvation Army in San Francisco, California, and became an attorney dedicated to helping Civil War veterans with legal issues. She then cared for wounded soldiers
at the Home for the Friendless in Chicago, Illinois. Mary soon saw that the young men, many disabled and without careers, were desperate for employment. Hearing of land for homestead in Kansas she took a train west to Salina, Kansas, in 1867. At Salina Mary built a boarding home where she could sleep 33 and feed 110 and 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, Barton, Russell, Lincoln, Ellsworth, Ottawa, Stafford, and Rice Counties in Kansas.
In Russell, Kansas, Mary lived with her son James on the northwest corner of 7th and Lincoln Streets from 1888 to 1894. James served as Superintendent of Schools during that period. During the time Mary lived in Russell she made daily rounds to visit and advocate for the personal needs of the homebound and sick veterans, "her boys" who needed nursing care. One veteran from San Francisco came to live in Mary's home to be nursed by "Mother" until his death from cancer. He lies buried in the Russell Cemetery.
In Bunker Hill Mary lived with her son James from July of 1877 to December of 1888, and again from 1896 until her death. James Bickerdyke passed away in 1904 and is buried in the cemetery at Bunker Hill. In 1962 the new Bickerdyke Elementary School in Russell was named in his honor.
The first residence
Mary ever owned was given to her in Bunker Hill on her 80th birthday by the local veterans she had served so well all those years. The home is no longer standing. The Kansas State Historical Society honored Mary in 1895, and in 1897 the Woman's Relief Corps named its Ellsworth, Kansas facility in recognition of her many years of humanitarian service.
Shortly before Mary's death Galesburg, Illinois Post No. 45 of [the] Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) asked her for the honor to conduct her funeral and burial service when that time came, to which she agreed. When Mary Ann Bickerdyke passed away on November 8, 1901, at the age of 84 years, memorial services were first conducted by the G.A.R. Post in Bunker Hill, as the G.A.R. members of Kansas felt that she was one of their own since Mary had lived in the state for 34 years. Her remains were then shipped to Galesburg by rail accompanied by her son, two members of the Bunker Hill G.A.R. Post, and a large flag contributed by the Post. The funeral was held in the Central Congregational Church, of which Mary had been a member when she lived in Galesburg. She was laid to rest in the Linwood Cemetery beside her husband Robert and infant daughter Martha. On May 22, 1906, a bronze monument to Mother Bickerdyke's memory was unveiled before an estimated crowd of 8,000 on the grounds of the county courthouse in Galesburg.
In 2010 Mary was accorded the honor of being a finalist in the 8 Wonders of Kansas People contest sponsored by the Kansas Sampler Foundation.
The Mother Bickerdyke Museum in Bunker Hill was once the Lutheran Church where James and Mary worshiped. It houses many historic articles about their lives.