Adaline Weston Couzins (1815 – 1892)
Adaline Weston Couzins was a nurse during the Civil War. She worked on hospital boats that traveled up and down the Mississippi River. She risked her life to help wounded Union and Confederate soldiers. Even though she suffered from injuries herself, Adaline kept on nursing throughout the war and afterwards. She was a woman of great sympathy, courage, and determination.
Adaline Weston was born in Brighton, England, on August 12, 1815. She came to America with her parents in 1823. She married John Edward Decker Couzins who served as chief of police of St. Louis during the Civil War. Together they had four children. Their third born, Phoebe Wilson Couzins, was one of the first women to earn a law degree in the United States.
Adaline Couzins began her nursing career as a volunteer relief worker during a cholera epidemic that hit St. Louis, Missouri, in 1849. Cholera is a severe, infectious disease caused by bacteria. At this time, there were very few hospitals in America. There were even fewer programs to train nurses. Doctors had to rely on family members, servants, or Catholic nuns to nurse the sick and injured back to good health.
Nursing Soldiers During the Civil War
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, many leaders predicted that they would need more hospitals, doctors, and nurses to take care of wounded soldiers and civilians. Organizations like the Ladies’ Union Aid Society and the Western Sanitary Commission were formed at this time in St. Louis, Missouri.
Adaline joined the Ladies’ Union Aid Society of St. Louis to help support the Union cause. In August 1861, after the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Adaline met a train transporting wounded soldiers to St. Louis. She helped move the injured to the still unfinished New House of Refuge Hospital. She worked tirelessly washing and bandaging wounds and comforting injured soldiers.
During the winter of 1862, General John C. Frémont led a disastrous march through southwest Missouri. Adaline, along with another Ladies’ Union Aid Society member, Arethusa Forbes, volunteered to inspect and report the number of injured and dead soldiers following this march. It was extremely cold and both women were severely frostbitten on the trip. Because of their hard work, however, a long line of hospital train cars were sent to pick up the many wounded soldiers and bring them back to St. Louis for medical care. While Arethusa Forbes never again attempted such a dangerous journey, Adaline Couzins recovered and went on to nurse thousands of wounded soldiers after several famous battles. She also organized other nurses and kept track of medical supplies.
Injured in Battle
Throughout the Civil War, Adaline traveled up and down the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers on steamers that had been transformed into “floating hospitals.” She went to Tennessee after battles at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Fort Pillow. She was in Mississippi after the battles of Corinth and Vicksburg. Once the wounded soldiers were aboard the steamer, Adaline and other nurses would take care of them until they made it back to St. Louis. In 1863, at Vicksburg, Mississippi, Adaline was wounded in the knee by a small type of cannonball called a minié-ball fragment.
Doctors who served beside Adaline thought highly of her. She was intelligent, experienced, capable, and very reliable. They knew they could count on Adaline to make good decisions. Yet for all of her hard work on hospital steamers, trains, and gruesome battlefields, Adaline Couzins never received any payment for her services. In fact, she paid her own way to the battlefields and sometimes for the travel fare of other relief workers.
Contributions in Later Life
Adaline’s battle wounds were painful and made it hard for her to walk later in life. She did not, however, let her own pain stop her from working as a nurse even after the war came to an end. Adaline also helped start the campaign to allow women to vote in public elections.
In her old age, Adaline Couzins became bedridden and poor. Phoebe Couzins asked for help from the United States Government on her mother’s behalf. Many officials wrote letters telling about Adaline’s valuable service during the Civil War. Congress passed a bill granting Adaline a government pension on March 27, 1888.
Adaline Weston Couzins was a courageous and dedicated woman. She performed the difficult task of caring for wounded soldiers during the Civil War. She never flinched from her duty and always met suffering with sympathy. She died on May 9, 1892, and is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.
Research and Text by Carlynn Trout
Christensen, Lawrence O. et al, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 210–211.
McCandless, Perry and William E. Foley. Missouri Then and Now, 3rd ed. Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2001. pp. 224–225.