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Sisters of Mercy

Some religious orders of monks and nuns were traditionally involved with medicine. Nuns often served as nurses in hospitals and in times of war, including the American Civil War (1861-65). The Crimean War was no exception. A total of 21 Catholic nuns from the Sisters of Mercy travelled to the Crimea in October and December 1854. Initially they were on friendly terms with Florence Nightingale, but soon problems developed between their leader, Mother Francis Bridgeman, and Nightingale.

The Sisters of Mercy would stay up all night nursing the patients and prepare special meals for them, as they felt the male orderlies could not be trusted to look after the men’s needs. The conditions were very hard for the patients, even when they were in hospital. The facilities for the nurses were equally bad. Despite the efforts at keeping the hospital clean, the nurses often had rats in their beds at night. Many of the nurses caught illnesses from the men.

Related Themes and Topics


M Luddy, The Crimean Journals of the Sisters of Mercy 1854-56 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2004)

M Denis Maher, To Bind Up the Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses in the U.S. Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999)