Cordelia Harvey | 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.

"I would not exchange the memory of their grateful faces and their heartfelt ‘God bless yous’ for anything in this world." – Cordelia Harvey

One day you're a schoolteacher, the next day 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"?

Cordelia Adelaide Perrine was born in upstate New York in 1824. Her family moved to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in 1840. She became a schoolteacher when she grew up. In 1847, she married Louis Harvey. Louis was interested in politics. By 1861, he was governor of Wisconsin. Sadly, his time as governor didn't last long.

The United States Civil War had started in 1861. Soldiers from Wisconsin went to fight for the Union in the war. Sometimes hundreds or even thousands of soldiers could be killed or wounded in a single battle. Wounded soldiers were sent to hospitals in different parts of the country. In 1862, Governor Harvey was visiting wounded Wisconsin soldiers when he fell from a steamboat into the Tennessee River and drowned. Cordelia Harvey had been first lady for only ninety-four 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 new governor of Wisconsin to ask for more doctors and nurses. She asked families to send food, blankets, clothing, and other supplies. She kept visiting hospitals and bringing gifts and news from home. Because 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. Cordelia’s kind acts led to her being called the Wisconsin Angel.

Wisconsin didn’t have any military hospitals. Cordelia knew that Wisconsin needed one of its own. She started a petition that was signed by over eight thousand people! They all wanted a hospital built in Wisconsin for their soldiers. Cordelia took the petition to President Abraham Lincoln. She convinced the president that soldiers would feel better and heal faster near home. Soon there were three hospitals in Wisconsin. One was in Madison, one in Milwaukee, and one in Prairie du Chien.

Group 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.

 Reading Level Correlations

  • Level Z (7th Grade)

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