Filed Under Wartime

Soldiers' Aid Society

The Soldiers' Aid Society of Northern Ohio grew out of Cleveland's Ladies Aid Society's efforts to assist soldiers serving in the Civil War. The parent organization of the Soldiers' Aid Society was the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which was established by the federal government in June 1861 to provide aid and medical care for Union soldiers throughout the North. Before this occurred, however, the Ladies' Aid Society (1861-1865) was organized by Rebecca Rouse, only five days after President Lincoln's first call for troops to fight in the Civil War in April 1861. This small group of Cleveland women from various churches met on April 20 and organized a "blanket raid" by collecting blankets and quilts for soldiers being mustered at Camp Taylor in Cleveland. The officers of the organization were Rebecca Rouse, who served as the president, Mrs. John Shelley and Mrs. William Melhinch, who served as vice-presidents, Mary Clark Brayton, secretary, and Ellen F. Terry, treasurer. The Ladies Aid Society merged with several other of Cleveland's charitable groups in October 1861 to form the Soldiers' Aid Society of Northern Ohio.

The Cleveland Branch of the Soldiers' Aid Society was located at 95 Bank (West 6th) Street and served as a model for the creation of smaller aid societies in other towns and villages. It was the first permanently organized branch of the U.S. commission and the first to enter the field. The organization, financed mainly by private donations, cared for the sick and wounded, provided ambulance and hospital service, asked for clothing and medical supplies, and sent food to soldiers in the field throughout the Civil War. Rebecca herself frequently visited military hospitals at the front. She also helped organize a "sanitary fair" in 1864 to raise funds to help soldiers. The Northern Ohio Sanitary Fair was widely advertised and held in a temporary building in Public Square. Single admission to the fair was $.25 and over $100,000 was raised. For a few years after the end of the Civil War, the organization helped returning soldiers find employment and file benefits claims. The Soldiers' Aid Society of Northern Ohio finally closed in 1868.

Audio

Soldiers Aid Sanitary Fair Tim Daley from the Soldiers and Sailors' Monument talks about the Sanitary Fair held in Cleveland to raise money for Soldiers. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection
Rebecca Rouse Tim Daley from the Soldiers and Sailors' Monument talks about Rebecca Rouse, organizer of the Ladies' Aid Society. Source: Cleveland Regional Oral History Collection

Images

Soldiers' Aid Society, 1865 The Soldiers' Aid Society was located at 85 Bank Street (West 6th Street) in the city's Warehouse District. This is now the site of the Hat Factory apartments at 1235 West 6th Street. In this photograph from 1865, one can read the writing on the various crates to see that shipments of hospital supplies and (in the lone barrel) onions are being sent from the Aid Society to Sanitary Commission offices in Rhode Island, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society
Rebecca Rouse Rebecca Cromwell Rouse (1799-1887) was a member of the First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland Society and founded the Ladies Tract Society, which distributed religious pamphlets. In 1843, she founded and became president of the Martha Washington and Dorcas Society, which was the first city-wide organization in Cleveland focused on giving aid to the poor. She also organized the Protestant Orphan Asylum, later known as Beach Brook Inc., the Cleveland Ladies Temperance Union (1850), and the Ladies' Aid Society (1861-1865), which eventually became the Soldiers' Aid Society of Northern Ohio and was a precursor of the American Red Cross of Cleveland. Image courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society
"Articles Now Most Needed" The Office of the Soldiers' Aid Society of Northern Ohio sent this document (dated April 2, 1862) and many others of its kind to their auxiliaries asking for supplies. What kinds of supplies is Rebecca Rouse, president of the Aid Society, asking for? Who is she asking to supply them? You can sense the urgency with which she writes as she states, "The fathers and brothers, sisters and mothers may save many from an untimely grave by sending delicacies that Government does not provide, and without which our Surgeons say it is almost impossible to raise those who are stricken by disease." Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.
Guide For Seeking Donations, 1862 This is a letter sent from the Soldiers' Aid Society of Northern Ohio in Cleveland dated January 8, 1862. It is addressed to the officers of their Auxiliary Societies and tells them how they might successfully seek donations from citizens in their area. As Rouse states, "...thus no will be excluded from the privlege of joining this labor of humanity and patriotism, and the general interest and efficiency of your Society will be largly increased." Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.
Sanitary Fair A special building was constructed in the shape of a Greek cross on Public Square in Downtown Cleveland to hold the Sanitary Fair. The fair proved very successful, raising over $100,000 for the Soldiers' Aid Society. Admission to the fair was $.25 and additional funds were raised for the society in various auctions. The fair's exhibits included floral, artistic, and war-souvenir displays. This pamphlet advertised the fair which was held from February 22 to March 10, 1864. Image courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society
Gen. James A. Garfield The Sanitary Fair was officially opened by Major General James A. Garfield, a native of northeast Ohio who later became President. His presence there helped signify the importance of the fair and its goal raising of funds to aid Civil War soldiers. The fair raised over $100,000. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress
Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument This bronze relief statue featuring the women of the Soldiers' Aid Society (including its founder, Rebecca Rouse) can be found inside the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument at Public Square. Image courtesy of Heidi Kathleen Elise Fearing

Location

Metadata

“Soldiers' Aid Society,” Cleveland Historical, accessed August 15, 2022, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/264.