An exhibition of nearly thirty artworks and historical objects celebrating the contributions of Union women to a Civil War relief effort known as the Sanitary Movement is the subject of the latest exhibition in the Herstory Gallery of the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art. Healing the Wounds of War: The Brooklyn Sanitary Fair of 1864, on view from January 29 through September 12, focuses on one of the many sanitary fairs held in Northern cities to raise money to aid the Union troops, each seeking to outdo the others.
The Herstory Gallery is dedicated to exhibitions that relate to the lives and histories of the 1,038 women named in The Dinner Party by Judy Chicago, which is on permanent view in the adjacent gallery. Represented in Chicagos iconic work is Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States and a leader of the Sanitary Movement.
Although the U.S. Sanitary Commission, an official government agency signed into law by President Abraham Lincoln, was headed by men, much of its work to support the Federal army with funds and supplies was accomplished by thousands of women volunteers. They helped to organize sanitary fairs, marking the first time during the Civil War that women expressed their patriotism in the public sphere rather than the domestic arena.
In Brooklyn, womens organizations produced the successful Brooklyn and Long Island Sanitary Fair, featuring dances, parades, merchandise sales, auctions, and a cattle show. The event lasted two weeks and raised a remarkable $400,000, four times more than anticipated.
The focal point of the exhibition is an exceptional doll and its trousseau, made by the dressmaker Eliza Lefferts for the 1864 Brooklyn fair, which was held in a Montague Street location. The doll and her exquisitely created wardrobe, last on public view in 1980, entered the Brooklyn Museum
collection in 1924.
Also included in the exhibition are lithographs that depict the halls of the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair, where handmade items were for sale, as well as engravings of several magazine illustrations by Winslow Homer showing scenes of the war and the relief effort at home. The material in the exhibition is from the Brooklyn Museums permanent collections, augmented by loans of ephemera from the Brooklyn Historical Society.