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Elida Barker "Liza" Rumsey Fowle
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Birth: Jun. 6, 1842
New York County (Manhattan)
New York, USA
Death: Jun. 17, 1919
Dorchester
Suffolk County
Massachusetts, USA

Daughter of John Wickliffe Rumsey and Mary Underhill of New York City, and descendants of English and Dutch ancestry.

Wife of John Allen Fowle

Elida Rumsey lived with her shopkeeper father in the Bowery district of New York City prior to their moving to Washington, D.C. She was well-known in her community along Judiciary Square where they lived, for her parlor and Sunday School singing. In 1861, then seventeen-year-old Elida tried to become a nurse so that she might serve the Union cause during the Civil War. Her request was denied by Superintendent of Army Nurses Dorothea Dix, because Elida was too young and too pretty. Earlier that year in July, the First Battle of Bull Run had taken place with the Union forces being beaten and humiliated. Many of the Union soldiers that had been captured were sent to Richmond where they would be housed in a horrific place soon to be known as Libby Prison. In the Fall of 1861, these men were sent back home in a prisoner exchange and had arrived in Washington, D. C. They stopped for a break in the shadow of the US Capital dome. The men were emaciated, sallow and depressed, even though they were glad to be back in the fold of the Union, the fervor of patriotism had departed from them. A Navy Department clerk named John Allen Fowle, upon seeing the haggard group of men, went amongst them and asked if they would like to hear a song to brighten their spirits. He left and returned with Elida Rumsey and asked her to sing for the downtrodden men. And sing she did. Elida first sang the Star Spangled Banner and her rendition of the Anthem aroused the soldiers' wounded patriotic spirit that many had all but lost. They began to get to their feet and gather around Elida to listen to her strong, smooth voice. New strength was found in these men as they encircled her and those in the back who could not see cried out to those in front to build a stand for her. So Union knapsacks were thrown to the ground in a pile at her feet and she stepped up on them and once again, began to sing. The hearts of these men were filled with the memories of home and the sense of duty that had led them to where they currently stood. After Elida had finished singing and had stepped down from her "stage" and heard the loud and long appreciation she received from the soldiers, she too, had a new sense of duty. While she could not be a nurse, she could none-the-less give comfort to the soldiers by singing to them. It was this occasion, that caused the birth of "The Songbird of the North" and she committed herself to the service of caring for the Union soldier, no matter their rank or place in life. Elida sang to soldiers in hospitals and wards, in field hospitals and in Sunday services. Anytime she was called, she would answer. Along with her future husband John Allen Fowle and a Mrs. Walter Baker, Elida organized a free soldiers library on the Judiciary Square in Washington that was funded primarily by her giving concerts and appealing to libraries and newspapers in cities all over the North for books or periodicals. Elida also gathered food and supplies and would take them to the battle front to give out to the wounded, sick and dying. It was during one of her first such adventures that she began nursing the wounded. It is recorded that she fainted upon seeing fresh blood pumping from the arm of her very first patient. After being revived with fresh air and cold water she resolved that would never happen again and immediately went back into the field hospital and set about nursing those who needed her. She eventually became the youngest member of the Massachusetts Army Nurses. Elida and John, because of their work and their popularity with the troops, were allowed to be married in the US Capitol in the Hall of the House of Representatives. The wedding took place on March 1, 1863 in front of an audience of 4,000 soldiers and friends. After the ceremony, a call went up for the bride to sing "The Star Spangled Banner", which she did with much emotion while standing at the Speaker of the House's desk. The House Chaplin, Rev. J.W. Stockton, performed the service (some publications state that Rev. Alonzo Quint, pastor of the church which John Fowle attended in Jamaica Plain, and Chaplain of the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment, performed the service). They were the only couple to ever be married there. The Soldier's Free Library was dedicated the same day. Elida and John first met in a hospital that President Abraham Lincoln was visiting and both became singers in the House of Representatives choir. John sang tenor and Elida sang soprano. Elida is also credited with being the first person to sing Julia Ward Howe's song, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in public.

After the war John and Elida moved to Massachusetts and John engaged in the wool business, carrying on his operations both in New York and Boston. They resided in Brooklyn, New York, for some ten years, but in 1877 returned to Boston, and continued in business, living in Dorchester. Elida was a member of the Old Couples' Home, the Helping Hand Society, the Miss Burnap's Home, and the Women's Charity Club. She belonged to the Bunker Hill Chapter, and was an honorary member of the Army Nurses' Association. While she lived in New York, she was a leading member of the choir of Plymouth Church.

With respect to her services during the war, it has been said of her: "Of all the women who devoted themselves to the soldiers in the Civil War, perhaps none had a more varied experience than Elida Barker Rumsey, a girl so young that Miss Dix would not receive her as a nurse. Undaunted by seeming difficulties, she persisted in, doing 'the next thing,' and so fulfilled her great desire do to something for the soldiers; for, wherever she saw a soldier in need, her ready sympathies were enlisted, little caring if the heart-beats stirred a coat of blue or gray".

John and Elida had the following children:
Florence Howard 1867 -
(m. William J. Parker, Jr.)
Edith Rumsey, 1869-1874, Edward Rumsey, 1872 -
James Walter 1878 - 3/13/1900

They also adopted two other children, both soldiers' orphans: Annie Geisenheiner/Geisenheimer, who died in New York and was buried in Washington; and Jennie Ormsby. They also raised two emancipated slave children. In 1906 they donated their Civil War collection and mementos to the Dorchester Historical Society of which John was the secretary/treasurer. Recent correspondence with that organization showed the items are no longer there.

A movie was made in 1913 entitled "Songbird of the North" and starred Anita Stewart as Elida Rumsey. The film plot, while similar to Elida's life during the war, was a work of fiction.


 
 
Family links: 
 Spouse:
  John Allen Fowle (1826 - 1916)*
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Forest Hills Cemetery and Crematory
Jamaica Plain
Suffolk County
Massachusetts, USA
 
Maintained by: Rick Lawrence
Originally Created by: Charles Eugene Logston
Record added: Sep 21, 2011
Find A Grave Memorial# 76892611
Elida Barker Liza <i>Rumsey</i> Fowle
Added by: Rick Lawrence
 
Elida Barker Liza <i>Rumsey</i> Fowle
Added by: Barbara Samans
 
Elida Barker Liza <i>Rumsey</i> Fowle
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Jen Snoots
 
 
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In remembrance of your honored and loving sacrifice of service to our country. May you always be remembered....
- Rick Lawrence
 Added: Sep. 16, 2012
 
 
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