At the start of the Civil War, Jane Stuart Woolsey was 31 years old and living in New York City with eight siblings and her mother, who was a staunch abolitionist. It is said that when the children outgrew their toys, they were engaged in the subject of politics and educated on the wrongs of slavery. Her father had passed away when she was ten, but the strength of her mother, relatives and friends made certain that the children grew up well. As 100,000 men gathered in New York City at Union Square on April 20, 1861, showing support for the Union and welcoming Major Robert Anderson (who had just returned from the Battle of Fort Sumter with the tattered U.S. flag in hand), Jane watched the excitement from her doorstep, unable to participate because she was a woman.
The family eagerly looked for ways to support the Union, so they immediately joined a network of citizen-led organizations created to aide the war effort. Jane and several other family members participated in the first meetings of the Women’s Central Relief Association, which was a precursor to the acclaimed U.S. Sanitary Commission. From 1861 to 1862, Jane visited hospitals in New York City as a member of the Women’s Auxiliary Committee, helping sick and injured soldiers who needed care and attention. In 1863 she went to Rhode Island to receive Hospital Management training. While working there she was asked to come to Alexandria, Virginia and was offered the Superintendent position at Fairfax Seminary Hospital, where she would serve until August 1865.
Jane was constantly praised for her work with the soldiers and making sure they received the care necessary so they could get better and return home to their loved ones. In 1868 her memoirs were published, entitled “Hospital Days: Reminiscence of a Civil War Nurse.” She continued to serve as a hospital manager until the late 1800’s. She also worked in Richmond, Virginia at the Lincoln Industrial School of Freedmen and the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institution, where she taught housework and sewing classes to newly freed African Americans.