seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA

Birth of Sister Anthony, Mary Ellen O’Connell

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Mary Ellen O’Connell, Roman Catholic Religious Sister better known as Sister Anthony, S.C., is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on August 14, 1814.

Connell is the daughter of William O’Connell (1769-1841) and Catherine Murphy (-1821). In 1821, she emigrates with her family to Boston, and attends the Ursuline Academy in Charlestown, Massachusetts. On June 5, 1835 she enters the novitiate of the American Sisters of Charity in St. Joseph’s Valley, Maryland, founded by Saint Elizabeth Seton, and is professed in 1837, taking the name of Sister Anthony. Soon after, she goes to Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sister Anthony arrives in Cincinnati in 1837 to begin her work at St. Peter’s Orphan Asylum and School for girls. Given charge of St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum for boys when it is begun in 1852, she later oversees the combining of the two asylums in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Cumminsville. She is in Cincinnati through 1852, when the Sisters in Cincinnati become independent of their founding motherhouse in Emmitsburg, Maryland. She is placed in charge of St. John’s Hostel for Invalids, a new hospital.

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, the Sisters volunteer as nurses. More than one-third of the community, which by then has more than one hundred members, serve. In June, 1861 Sister Anthony is one of six Sisters of Charity who go to Camp Dennison, about 15 miles from Cincinnati. A request is made from Cumberland, Virginia for nursing assistance, and eight sisters are sent to serve the wounded of both armies.

The Battle of Shiloh brings ten sisters to the scene including Sister Anthony. Some describe her word as being law with officers, doctors, and soldiers once she has established herself as a prudent and trusted administrator and nurse. She and other sisters often are picked to treat wounded prisoners of war since they show no bias in serving rebel, yank, white, or black soldiers.

When Sister Anthony serves at Shiloh she becomes known as the “Angel of the Battlefield” and “the Florence Nightingale of America.” She goes out to the battlefield to help bring in the sick and dying and also develops the Battlefield Triage. Her method is “the first recognizably modern triage techniques in war zones, saved countless lives through faster hospital treatment and won her praise from President Lincoln.” Her medical skills allow her to intervene to save soldiers’ limbs from amputation.

Sister Anthony also serves at the battlefields of Winchester, VA, the Cumberland Gap, TN, Richmond, VA, Nashville, TN, Gallipolis, OH, Culpeper Court House, VA, Murfreesboro, TN, Pittsburg Landing, TN, and Lynchburg, VA. She also serves on a hospital ship on the Ohio River. She sees no distinction between Union and Confederate soldiers. She becomes personally acquainted with Jefferson Davis and knows a number of generals on both sides of the conflict.

After the war, in 1866, Joseph C. Butler and a friend, Louis Worthington, purchase a large building at Sixth and Lock Street, to present to Sister Anthony as a gift in recognition of the sisters service during the war. There are two conditions: that no one be excluded from the hospital because of color or religion, and that the hospital be named “The Hospital of the Good Samaritan,” to honor the sisters’ kindness. It opens that same year as the St. Joseph Foundling and Maternity Hospital. It still serves as St. Joseph Hospital, a residential facility for children and adults with severe mental and multiple physical disabilities.

Sister Anthony is also recognized for her work during the yellow fever epidemic of 1877. She retires from active service in 1880, and dies in 1897 in Cumminsville, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Sister Anthony’s portrait hangs in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

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