A few weeks ago, I had the honor of exploring and enjoying one of the oldest medical facilities in the state: the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. As one of the oldest VAs in the country, it focuses its efforts to serve US Military Veterans. As I ate my lunch in front of the old Soldier’s Home, I got the chance to take in the history and beauty of the grounds: fountains, statues, a cemetery, and lovely greenery make the VA a historian’s dream.

After a few hours of searching, I found the two historical markers located on the VA grounds: National Solider’s Home and Erastus B. Wolcott.

The VA Medical Center

The VA Medical Center

Historical Marker Stop #3: National Solider’s Home

This marker is located near the National Ave. entrance. Special thanks to the nice parking attendant who let me park in the valet section to take this photo.

This marker is located near the National Ave. entrance. Special thanks to the nice parking attendant who let me park in the valet section to take this photo.

What does this historical marker say?

“The Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home Association was formed in 1864 by a coalition of women’s charitable organizations led by Lydia Hewitt, Hannah Vedder, and Mrs. E. L. Buttrick of Milwaukee. The Association raised funds to endow a hospital where sick and wounded Civil War soldiers could receive medical treatment and long term domiciliary care. After securing a state appropriation of $5000, the Association staged a spectacular public event known as the Solider’s Home Fair, which opened in Milwaukee on June 29th, 1865 and raised more than $110,000. The proceeds from the Solider’s Home Fair enabled the Association to purchase the land and establish a hospital.

In 1867, the Association transferred its property and remaining funds to the federal government for the establishment of the National Asylum for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers, Northwestern Branch. Dr. Erastus B. Wolcott of Milwaukee, the state’s surgeon general during the Civil War, was appointed by Congress to head the governing board of the Home. In 1869, the noted architect Edward Townsend Mix designed the High Victorian Gothic structure “Old Main” now known as Building No. 2. The hospital was renamed the Clement J. Zablocki Veterans Administration Medical Center in 1985.”

Old Main, plans were recently announced to restore the building.

Old Main, plans were recently announced to restore the building.

Why is this historically significant?

This is a major event for women’s history in Wisconsin. Women in the mid-1800s were struggling to find their role in society, but were yearning to break out and establish their mark in history. This marker is a great tribute to the three women who created the first VA hospital in the country.  Also, how awesome does that Solider’s Home Fair sound?

Historical Marker Stop #4: Erastus B. Wolcott M.D. 1804-1880

This marker is located in a park near the administration building.

This marker is located in a park near the administration building.

What does this historical marker say?

“Dr. Erastus B. Wolcott was an originator of the idea for a national solider’s home in Milwaukee. A spirited leader in medicine, business, and government, he was the state surgeon-general during the Civil War and an ardent advocate for what is now the Veterans Administration Hospital at Wood. The hospital was established in 1867 and Dr. Wolcott was appointed by Congress to the National Governing Board. Dr. Wolcott was a founder of the State Medical Society in 1841 and the Medical Society of Milwaukee County in 1846. He made surgical history as the first physician to remove a diseased kidney. In 1869 he married Dr. Laura J. Ross, the first woman admitted to a medical society in Wisconsin and one of the first three American women physicians.”

Why is this historically significant?

Civil War medicine was an experimental time for doctors. Young men were coming to them by the thousands with devastating wounds from the invention of the mini-ball. Often times, amputation was the only answer. The VA serviced these men who recently lost limbs and facilitated their return to community living.  It’s worth noting that at this time, Clara Barton founded the Red Cross. Also, Dr. Wolcott’s kidney removal is super impressive.