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Financing Volunteers and their Dependents

(text adapted from Rochester History, Vol. IX. April, 1947 Nos. 2 & 3 "Historic Origins of Rochester's Social Welfare Agencies", by Blake McKelvey)

Wages and benefits
Within the first week after the attack on Fort Sumter, a Volunteer Relief Committee was established and a fund of $36,000 subscribed to aid the dependents of volunteers. Weekly benefits, ranging up to four dollars per family, were distributed in the early months from the first payments on these pledges. However, as the call for new regiments arrived and the long-range character of the war became evident, the Relief Committee was forced to recognize its inadequacy for the big task of supplementing the eleven dollar monthly wages of privates. The task was accordingly turned over to the city which continued throughout the war to pay special benefits, not exceeding two dollars a week, to the needy families of volunteers. The high point in these payments was reached in November, 1864, when 900 such families registered for assistance.

Introduction of bounties
The community's determination to rely on volunteers introduced a new type of subsidy in the form of bounties. Private bounties appeared in the first months, and before the close of the first year the city likewise assumed this function. Starting with $100 for each enlistee in the fall of 1861, Rochester was paying $300 for each man a year later. The county took over the bounty payments for a time in 1863, but when a draft was threatened the next year, the city re-entered the field; $600 bounties were paid that fall, as well as a few private bounties ranging as high as $1,500. Although these payments were in no sense charity payments, the expenditure of an estimated $700,000, widely distributed among the 5,000 recruits raised in Rochester, considerably affected the relief problem. As most of the bounties were paid in lump sums, the recipients tended to spend them on equipment or other immediate uses, thus contributing to price inflation and reducing the real value of the weekly benefits that were to follow.

New emergency appeals, the Ladies Hospital Relief Association and the Christmas Bazaar
One tragic result of the frightful battles along the Potomac and elsewhere during the war was the multiplication of widows and orphans-a long-term problem of sober significance. Moreover, the hardships of famine sufferers in Kansas and especially those in Ireland, and the victims of a fire in Troy, stirred a response in Rochester which resulted in contributions totaling $7,000 during war years. But of course the most generous response was to the call of the Soldier's Aid Society for hospital supplies to alleviate the suffering of sick and wounded soldiers. The city's first great bazaar was held during Christmas week in 1863 for the benefit of the wounded. More than $10,000 was collected in its numerous booths, and this sum, together with the shipments of clothing, bandages and medical supplies sent off at various periods throughout the war, was placed at the disposal of the United States Sanitary Commission for use in battle areas.

Local hospitals
It was during the war that the utility of local hospitals finally became apparent in Rochester. When the Federal Government began in 1862 to send small detachments of wounded to St. Mary's Hospital, those who had opposed the City Hospital as a useless extravagance were silenced, and its friends, led by the Female Charitable Society, were able to rush its completion at a cost of $14,000, raised largely from charitable sources. The ladies of various Protestant churches undertook to furnish the several wards with a total of 200 beds, and the hospital was finally ready for use in January, 1864. St. Mary's had meanwhile received community-wide support in its drive for funds to erect a new wing, increasing its bed capacity to 400. By May, that year, 400 wounded were receiving care in the two Rochester hospitals, and 2,000 sick and wounded soldiers were thus accommodated before the close of the Civil War.