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She was "Mother" to them All

Mary Ann Ball Bickerdyke was born in Knox County, near Mount

Vernon, Ohio, on July 19, 1817, to Hiram and Annie Cassady Ball. Her

father was a farmer. Her mother died when she was just seventeen months

old. Hiram, now a widower, was overwhelmed and grieving. He sent

Bickerdyke to live with her elderly grandparents who farmed in Richland

County. Upon their deaths, she went to live with her uncle, Henry Rodgers,

on his farm in Hamilton County, Ohio. She had a very limited, basic

education and her childhood was difficult as she was being shifted from

relative to relative.


At the age of sixteen, Mary Ann moved to Oberlin, Ohio, where some

accounts say she worked in the home of a professor as a domestic. She

attended Oberlin College, one of the few institutions of higher education

open to a woman at that time in the United States, but did not graduate.

She received training as a nurse in Cincinnati where she worked assisting

doctors during the cholera epidemics of 1837 and 1849, which took thousands of lives. The 1849 epidemic took Harriet Beecher Stowe’s infant son. Mary Ann was also an early abolition activist who transported escaping slaves in a wagon.


In April of 1847, she married Robert Bickerdyke, a sign painter and

musician. He was a widower with three children. In 1849 she gave birth

to their first child, John, who lived for only a few minutes. Later, they

had two sons, James and Hiram and a daughter, Martha, who died when

she was two.


After only 12 years of marriage, Robert died suddenly in 1860, the same

year she lost little Martha, leaving Mary Ann to support the remaining

family. Shortly after Robert’s death, she moved to Galesburg, Illinois,

where she was a member of the Congregational Church. She opened a