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June 19: Our One Great Hope

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At the end of the Civil War, the country began waking up to the realities of recovery. Railroads and bridges had been destroyed. Farms had been wiped out. Disabled veterans were unable to support themselves and widows and orphans had been left behind. President Lincoln had promised to care for “those who have borne the burden, his widow and orphans.” But no one knew how to go about doing that.

Veterans took the matter into their own hands. The Grand Army of the Republic was founded in 1866. Membership was open to anyone honorably discharged from the Union Army. By 1890, there were more than 400,000 members. The organization lobbied Congress to establish pensions for veterans and actively supported political candidates who would enact laws favorable to veterans.

On this date in 1905, the annual encampment of the North Dakota GAR concluded their gathering in Jamestown. The meeting was a great success, with more than 50% of the state membership in attendance.

The Women’s Relief Corps held their annual meeting in conjunction with the encampment. Women who supported the veterans had formed the Relief Corps to assist the GAR in its work. Women had provided support during the war, and they continued to serve in that role. The GAR granted the Relief Corps the right to use the title “Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic.”

The women appreciated the warm reception they received in Jamestown, but focused more on their work than on sightseeing and social activities. They elected officers for the coming year and made plans for their activities in support of the GAR. The two organizations held a joint session. As the veterans aged, they knew they needed the support of allied organizations. The GAR extended “warmest thanks to the loyal women of the land for their earnest support and encouragement.” They called the women of the Relief Corps “our one great hope.”

Even though the last Civil War veteran has long since passed away, the Women’s Relief Corps continues to be active. The organization funds scholarships, supports child welfare programs, and provides outreach to veterans in hospitals and nursing homes.

Dakota Datebook by Dr. Carole Butcher


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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