Phoebe Yates Levy Pember Banner


Phoebe Yates Levy Pember, the well educated daughter of a wealthy Jewish family from Charleston, S.C., was widowed from her Bostonian husband, who died of tuberculosis in July 1861. She returned to her family, who were living in Marietta, Ga. Pember wanted to serve the Confederate cause and used her friendship with the wife of Secretary of War George W. Randolph to obtain an appointment. On December 1, 1862, Pember became chief matron of the 2d division of Richmond's Chimborazo Hospital.

Though plagued by severe shortages of supplies and medicine, and having to battle with doctors who did not approve of women's roles in hospitals, Pember labored unceasingly for the rest of the war to care for sick and wounded soldiers. In response to criticism that hospital horrors should not be seen by ladies, Pember replied, "In the midst of suffering and death, hoping with those almost beyond hope in this world; praying by the bedside of the lonely and heartstricken; closing the eyes of boys hardly old enough to realize man's sorrows, much less suffer man's fierce hate, a woman must soar beyond the conventional modesty considered correct under different circumstances."

Pember stayed with the hospital and her patients after the fall of Richmond and until the facility was taken over by federal authorities. In 1879 she published her memoirs, A Southern Woman's Story, in which she vividly describes the suffering and the spirit of her patients.