Phoebe Pember was one of the South's unsung heroes. Her wartime services might have gone unnoticed had she not later composed a memorable account, “A Southern Woman's Story,” relating her experiences as a matron at Chimborazo, the Confederacy's largest hospital. The task she assumed presented many challenges, not the least of which was her pioneering role as a woman working in a man's world.
Born Phoebe Yates Levy in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1823, she was the daughter of a prominent Jewish merchant and a popular actress. In 1856, she married Thomas Pember of Boston, who contracted tuberculosis. Like many women who offered medical care during the Civil War, Phoebe Pember received training at home, nursing a loved one. Her husband died soon after the conflict began, and she returned to live with relatives. In late 1862, she accepted the appointment at Chimborazo and began work at the huge Richmond hospital, spread over 40 acres and containing nearly 150 wards. Before the war ended, physicians there would treat some 75,000 sick and wounded soldiers.