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Fanny Burling Buttrick

Lady Manager of the Downtown Soldiers' Home
Mother of the 39th Wisconsin
Friend of Milwaukee's Poor

It is no oversight that the inscription on Fanny Buttrick’s headstone in Forest Home Cemetery reads only “Rest” instead of "Rest in Peace." She lived her life with a determination and intensity that some of her contemporaries considered “abnormal.” (History of Milwaukee Wisconsin, 1881)

Born in New York City in 1831, she was educated at Leroy Female Seminary near Rochester. One of the first institutions to offer a college curriculum for the education of young ladies, Leroy Seminary was in the heart of New York’s “burned over” district, the birthplace of several religious and social movements, including woman’s suffrage. Shortly after completing her education and movingto Wisconsin, she married Edwin L. Buttrick, Esq., who served the State as Judge Advocate General at the beginning of the Civil War and as an officer with the 24th and 39th Wisconsin regiments.

Fanny lived comfortably in Milwaukee, employing three servants, but became increasingly interested in the young city’s charitable organizations. She was one of the first officers of the Soldiers’ Home organized in March 1864 and traveled with her husband during both of his terms of service. While with the 39th Wisconsin in Memphis, Tennessee, July-September 1864, she corresponded almost feverishly with Lydia Hewitt, describing her adventures, her insights on the Sanitary Commission and the plight of her beloved boys. She was especially concerned about the strain on the resources of the Milwaukee Soldiers’Home pending the transfer of 50-60 sick from the 39th Wisconsin alone.

During the 1865 Soldiers Home Fair, Fanny was described as the “High Priestess” or “Nymph” of the Floral Temple, having designed a hall “gorgeous with bud and blossom, and redolent with the perfumes of a thousand flowers.” (Milwaukee Sentinel, May 18, 1865) This light side was not uncharacteristic. She wrote of the joys of horseback riding with Lydia and staging festive entertainments. Col. Buttrick was often in demand as a floor manager at balls.
In the years following the fair, the minutes of the Board of the Wisconsin Soldiers’ Home mention Fanny in relation to one of her “boys,” but there is no record of either woman in relation to the operation of the Home after Lydia Hewitt’s resignation from the Board in April 1866.

While at the 1867 Paris Exposition with her husband, Fanny contracted a pulmonary disease, resulting in her death on December 27, 1871, just days after her 40th birthday. Her body was returned to Milwaukee from Ceredo, West Virginia, for the December 31 funeral at St. James Episcopal Church. She was buried in Forest Home Cemetery, not far from the Soldiers’ Home plot. The ragged throng of strangers at her funeral gave a glimpse into her hidden life of charity. Only a few intimate friends had discovered by accident her secret ministrations at the City Poor House, the County Hospital and other places “equally forbidding.” Next to her headstone is a small eroded marker with the single word, “Minnie,” her only child who died in the first years of her marriage.

Contributed by Patricia Lynch


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