This weekend, the Ohio Historical Society will hold a major event–the Civil War Soldiers’ Aid Fair–right here in our 1860s-era Ohio Village. This event is in honor of Memorial Day and in promotion of the Village’s summer opening, but also serves as a celebration of the Society’s new name that will go into effect on Saturday. As of May 24th, we will be known as the Ohio History Connection!
So what exactly is a Soldiers’ Aid Fair, often called a Sanitary Fair? First, a bit of background: following the outbreak of the Civil War, local soldiers’ aid societies operated as branches of the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which worked to provide medical care, clothing, supplies and food to Union soldiers during the Civil War. The U.S.S.C. was created on June 18, 1861, by federal legislation, modeled on a similar agency established in Great Britain during the Crimean War. The work of the Commission allowed civilians from all across the Union to contribute to and support the war effort in a variety of ways.
During the Civil War, Soldiers’ Aid Fairs were held in a number of major cities throughout the Union. Festivities consisted of craft bazaars, horticulture displays, special balls, famous speakers, and many other activities and attractions, all with the goal of raising money for care and supplies for the Union troops. The U.S. Sanitary Commission and many women-led groups and churches took the lead in organizing these efforts, which raised significant funds for the cause. The first Sanitary Fair, held in Chicago in the fall of 1863, collected nearly $100,000 for the Commission, and over the course of the war, the U.S.S.C. is estimated to have raised around $25 million in funds and other contributions.
This weekend’s fair will be a wonderful way to honor veterans and service members throughout our country’s history, and to celebrate the shared history of Ohioans as our organization moves into the future. We hope you can join us!