From virtually the first shots of the Civil War, the women of Harrisburg worked in a variety of behind-the-scenes roles that proved essential to the Union victory. When Camp Curtin opened on April 18, 1861, the ladies of Harrisburg were already at work sewing Muslin haversacks for soldiers. Enlistees had converged in the state capital in the previous few days, and until the army built a kitchen at the camp, local women cooked meals for the men at the nearby Pennsylvania State Lunatic Hospital and delivered food to the men by wagons.
A few months later a cold snap hit. Women collected warm clothing and thousands of blankets to loan to the troops until supplies arrived from the army. Harrisburg residents worked vigorously to help soldiers in the first year and a half of the war but without formal coordination their efforts were disjointed. In September 1862, the Ladies Union Relief Organization of Harrisburg organized, consolidating several individual soldiers' aid societies. In addition to serving as nurses, women also collected supplies, cooked meals, wrote out letters for soldiers, and offered much-needed emotional support.