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.