COVID-19 Updates: The Wisconsin Historical Society hours have changed. See a full list of COVID-19 Closures and Events HERE.

Wisconsin Historical Society

Classroom Material

Cordelia Harvey

The Wisconsin Angel

Cordelia Harvey | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeCarte-de-visite portrait of Cordelia Harvey wearing a hooded cape.

Cordelia A. P. Harvey

From the collection of Lucius Fairchild, 1831-1896 : Lucius Fairchild papers, 1819-1943 View the original source document: WHI 36009

Note: This is a grade-level appropriate biographical essay about a significant figure from Wisconsin's past.

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 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!

EnlargeA page of the Cordelia Harvey's petition to president Abraham Lincoln

Original Petition

A page of the original petition to build Wisconsin hospitals that Cordelia Harvey submitted to president Abraham Lincoln View the original source document: WHI 75288

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 soldiers that were prisoners of war. She became known as the Wisconsin Angel.

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.

EnlargeGroup of people posing outside of Soldiers' Orphans Home.


Soldiers' Orphans Home, Farwell House, 1870. Madison, Wisconsin. Opened on January 1, 1866, as the orphan asylum. Mrs. Cordelia Harvey, widow of Governor L.P. Harvey, was in charge. View the original source document: WHI 10028 View the original source document: WHI 10028

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."

Learn more about Cordelia Harvey in Cordelia Harvey: Civil War Angel from the Wisconsin Historical Society Press.