THE ROLE OF WOMEN
IN FOUNDING THE MILWAUKEE SOLDIERS HOME
The story of the Milwaukee Soldiers Home began even before Congress authorized the creation of the National Homes - a key reason why Milwaukee was chosen as one of the original sites for a home.
During the Civil War, beginning in 1861, a group of Milwaukee-area women formed the West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society and worked to provide care and transitional housing to returning Civil War veterans in Wisconsin. They focused on assisting discharged soldiers with meals, medical care, and temporary housing in rented buildings located in downtown Milwaukee.
Without any formal system in place to care for the unprecedented number of sick, disabled, and displaced soldiers returning from war, the West Side Soldiers' Aid Society began planning a permanent facility in the area that would provide long-term solutions for Wisconsin veterans. Their vision: create a home where Wisconsin veterans could receive medical treatment, housing, and vocational training.
At that time, fundraising fairs were popular and festive events designed to support the Union Army. The Society organized a remarkable public event known as the Soldiers' Home Fair. Originally scheduled for a ten-day run, the Fair opened in Milwaukee on June 28, 1865 and ran until the end of July. In that time, the fair committee raised more than $100,000 (the equivalent of $1.5M today).
In the meantime, President Lincoln signed legislation on March 3, 1865, to create a national system of homes for disabled veterans. In 1866, when the federal government began selecting sites for branches of the Asylum (later Home) for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, local businessmen and politicians lobbied to construct a branch in Milwaukee. Eventually, the women were persuaded to consider giving up their plans, and to transfer assets to the federal government for the purchase of land near Wauwatosa. The West Side Soldiers’ Aid Society, now renamed The Lady Managers of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home, stipulated that the Northwestern Branch admit veterans of all wars, not just the Civil War.