Cordelia Harvey

The Wisconsin Angel
(WHS Collections)
One day you're a schoolteacher, the next you're the first lady of Wisconsin. How did Cordelia go from teaching children their ABCs to meeting President Abraham Lincoln? And how did she earn the nickname "Wisconsin Angel"? Let's find out!

Cordelia Adelaide Perrine was born in upstate New York in 1824. Her family moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1840. When she got older, she became a schoolteacher. In 1847, she married Louis Harvey. Louis was interested in politics. In 1861 he was elected governor of Wisconsin. Sadly, his time as governor didn’t last long.

In 1862 Governor Harvey drowned while visiting wounded Wisconsin soldiers. Cordelia Harvey was first lady for only 94 days. She knew how important those visits were to the soldiers. Cordelia made up her mind to keep visiting them. Her decision changed the lives of people from Wisconsin for the better.

She toured battlefields and inspected military hospitals. Hospital care during the Civil War often did more harm than good. Hospitals were dirty and overcrowded. Many patients had to sleep outside in tents. There were never enough doctors or nurses. Diseases killed more soldiers than bullets!

Original Petition
(WHS Collections)
Cordelia worked to change all of this. She wrote letters to the governor of Wisconsin to ask for more doctors and nurses. She asked women to send food, blankets, clothing, and other supplies. She kept visiting hospitals and bringing soldiers news and gifts from home. Cordelia often wore a cape with a black hood when she traveled. Soldiers would recognize her and ask for help. Cordelia even helped the Confederate soldiers that were prisoners of war. She became known as the Wisconsin Angel.

(WHS Collections)
All the hospitals were in other states. Cordelia knew that Wisconsin needed its own hospitals. She started a petition. It was signed by over 8,000 people! The petitioners wanted a hospital built in Wisconsin for their soldiers. Cordelia took it to President Abraham Lincoln.  The president was convinced! Soon there were three hospitals in Wisconsin. One was in Madison, one in Milwaukee, and one in Prairie du Chien.

Later these hospitals became orphanages. They cared for the children of soldiers killed in the Civil War.

Cordelia Harvey died in 1895. She will always be remembered as Wisconsin's Angel.

"I would not exchange the memory of their grateful faces and their heartfelt 'God bless you's' for anything in this world."

Cordelia Harvey
(WHS Collections)

Read more about Cordelia Harvey in the Badger Biographies book Cordelia Harvey: Civil War Angel, available now from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.