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Aug 23

Kansas Soldiers' Home and Mother Bickerdyke Annex

Posted on August 23, 2019 at 9:00 AM by Bill Sowers

130 years ago the Congress gave land to the state of Kansas about five miles southeast of Dodge City. setting into motion the establishment of a home for retired veterans, their spouses and sometimes even their families. This state supported residential community opened its doors in 1890 and has been in operation every since. In 1951 single women residents of the state operated home in Ellsworth for military widows, the Mother Bickerdyke Annex, were relocated at the Soldiers Home as well.

A short history of the creation of the Soldiers' Home from the 1960 Biennial Report of Kansas State Agencies:
"In earlier days Fort Dodge was one of the most important military establishments on the western frontier of the United States. Located as it was on the north bank of the Arkansas river only a short distance southeast of the present Dodge City, on the site of the old “Caches,” it made a favorite and convenient camping ground for freighters and hunters from the time of the opening of the Santa Fe Trail. War Department records in Washington state that Fort Dodge of the later days was established by General Grenville M. Dodge in 1864. The first buildings were of adobe, but about three years later several large buildings were built of native stone. Several of these buildings are still in existence and in use by the present-day Kansas Soldiers’ Home. The original reservation comprising some 30,000 acres on which now stands the Kansas Soldiers’ Home, was purchased from the Osage Indians. In 1886 the Kansas delegation in the National Congress was requested by the Kansas legislature to secure, at as early a date as possible, the survey and sale of this reservation in Ford county. Three years later, in 1889, the Kansas legislature requested Congress to donate the remaining unsold part of the reservation to the state to be used as a site for a Soldiers’ Home. This request was acted upon favorably by the Congress, and on March 2, 1889, an act, donating this land to the state of Kansas for that purpose was signed by President Cleveland, conditional upon the state of Kansas establishing a Soldiers’ Home on the site within a period of three years. Records indicate that the first admission to the Home was on February 7, 1890. (1960 Kansas Biennial Report)"

The Mother Bickerdyke Home in Ellsworth was established as an annex to the State Soldiers’ Home, in order to provide suitable residence for the aged widows of soldiers. It was founded January 25, 1897, by the Woman’s Belief Corps, Department of Kansas, and was transferred by them to the state of Kansas in 1901. The Mother Bickerdyke Home was closed in 1951 with many of its residents transferred to the Kansas Soldiers' Home in Fort Dodge.

The State Library of Kansas' KGI Online Library has a small collection of material on and by the Soldiers' Home and the Mother Bickerdyke Annex. Prominent within the digitized material are the biennial and annual reports of the homes.

FOR GENEALOGICAL RESEARCHERS: The Biennial/Annual Reports of the Kansas Soldiers' Home, 1889/90-1933/34 included the names of residents. (Members/residents/workers/staff) Not all reports include members. Reports stop including members with 1930/32 report The Mother Bickerdyke Home reports start with 1906/07 Report but don't include residents' names until 1926/28.

You can find most of the documents on these two resident communities here:

During the 1960s and 1970s the State of Kansas published huge biennial volumes with individual summary reports on state agencies and institutions. You can find the reports for the Kansas Soldiers Home in these reports. Just check the table of contents in each report.

AND... if you're wondering why the widows' home in Ellsworth was called the Mother Bickerdyke Annex... Mary Ann "Mother" Bickerdyke was a medical professional famous during the US Civil War. She was responsible for establishing 300 field hospitals during the war and served as a lawyer assisting veterans and their families with obtaining pensions after the war. She was a friend of Generals Sherman and Grant but she cared for all not matter what flag they flew under. On the march to capture Atlanta, Georgia, despite General Sherman's orders to inflict "all the damage you can against [the enemy's] war resource," Bickerdyke worked to build hospitals for Confederate soldiers too. She was so loved by the army that the soldiers would cheer her when she appeared, and at General Sherman's request, she rode at the head of the XV Corps in the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington at the end of the war.