Amanda Akin (1827-1911) was 35 when she left her Quaker Hill, New York residence to travel to Washington, D.C. in April, 1863 to help tend wounded Civil War soldiers.
She joined millions of others on both sides of the conflict who volunteered and lent assistance to their causes, and she kept a diary of her experiences.
Now through Friday when the exhibit closes, her diary, photographs, and artifacts are on display in a dimly lit space, the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery, located behind the Greensboro lunch counter on the first floor of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
Ms. Akin spent 15 months at the Armory Square Hospital* where, beginning at 6 in the morning, she comforted the sick and injured and helped administer medicine and distribute special meals. In the evenings she worked until 9, entertaining the wounded soldiers by playing music and singing, and by writing letters home for the patients.
At the hospital she helped with the many visitors, and she contributed articles to the hospital newspaper about religious services and concerts. For the newspaper she listed the names of the dead who had died in her care.
Every noontime she and other nurses took a “dinner” break, sometimes followed by walks. They might “run there [to the Smithsonian] for a few moments [where}…the complete change renovates mind and body,” Ms. Akin wrote her sisters.
Amanda Akin saw President Abraham Lincoln when he visited the hospital, and she attended several receptions at the White House.
Many years later when she was 81, she published a memoir of her Washington life under her married name, Amanda Akin Stearns. The title: The Lady Nurse of Ward E ($20 at Amazon).
The exhibit, co-sponsored by the National Museum of American History and the National Library of Medicine, is part of the Smithsonian’s tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
It’s an effective exhibit, laid out well, and has an excellent interactive map which permits visitors to touch screens and find out how land uses in Ms. Akin’s day have changed. Now standing at the hospital site is the National Air and Space Museum.
If you can’t get by the exhibit, by all means check out this link which has lots of information, pictures, and pages from the diary.
(*Armory Square Hospital is the same hospital Walt Whitman frequently visited during the Civil War, where he comforted the wounded and performed many of the same tasks as Amanda Akin.)
What: “Diary of a Civil War Nurse” by Amanda Akin
When: Now through Friday, July 29 from 10 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. daily
Where: Albert H. Small Documents Gallery, National Museum of American History, 1400 Constitution Avenue
How much: Free
Metro station: Smithsonian or Federal Triangle
For more information: 202.633.1000