By Lawrence Weber In the spring of 1861, a group of influential northern men and women, led by Unitarian minister Henry Whitney Bellows and social reformer Dorothea Dix, met in New York City to discuss the formation of a sanitary commission, modeled after the British Sanitary Commission established during the Crimean War, to provide relief to sick and wounded soldiers in the Union Army. At the meeting, which took place on April 25, various topics were discussed, including how best to carry out much-needed sanitation and relief work on a grand scale for the benefit of Union soldiers spread throughout the country. By the conclusion of the meeting, the group had laid the foundation for a provisional sanitary commission to be called the Women’s Central Association of Relief for Sick and Wounded in the Army, or WCAR for short. Creating the WCAR The goal of the WCAR was to organize and implement a wide-reaching group of women who would provide humanitarian aid to wounded and sick Union soldiers. One of the most important members of the WCAR was Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to earn a medical degree. Blackwell’s knowledge of medicine was critically important for training new nurses who would eventually travel to army camps to tend the sick and wounded. The goals were noble and humane, but implementing them successfully would prove to be daunting. To be effective, the provisional sanitary commission would need to be assisted by the national gove


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