Confederate hospital matron, author. Born in Charleston on August 18, 1823, Pember was the fourth of six daughters born to Jacob Clavius Levy and Fanny Yates, a prosperous and cultured Jewish couple. The family moved to Savannah, Georgia, in 1848. In 1856 she married Thomas Pember, a Christian, and moved to his home in Boston, Massachusetts. He soon thereafter contracted tuberculosis, and the couple relocated to Aiken, South Carolina, where he died on July 9, 1861. Phoebe went to live in Savannah with her parents, who shortly thereafter “refugeed” to Marietta, Georgia.
In November 1862 Pember was approached by Mrs. George W. Randolph, wife of the Confederate secretary of war. She asked Pember to serve as matron in Chimborazo Hospital, a complex of military hospitals on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. Pember became chief matron of Hospital No. 2 and is believed to have been the first matron appointed at Chimborazo. In her autobiography Pember described her hospital duties as follows: “I have entire charge of my department, seeing that everything is cleanly, orderly and all prescriptions of physicians are given in the proper time, food properly prepared and so on.” She overcame considerable opposition from her male counterparts in the other Chimborazo Hospitals, as well as from some patients, their families, and camp followers. The noted Civil War historian Bell Wiley described her as a “dynamic little woman.” On one occasion she even brandished a cocked pistol to defend her supply of medicinal whiskey from an undeserving soldier. After Federal forces captured Richmond in 1865, Pember remained at Chimborazo until “all the sick were either convalescent or dead,” caring for wounded Confederates during the transition marked by the Federal occupation.
After the war, Pember returned to Georgia. She traveled a great deal and wrote articles for several periodicals. In 1879 she published A Southern Woman’s Story, which remains one of the best accounts of hospital care and conditions during the Civil War. She died in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on March 4, 1913, and was buried in Savannah beside her husband in Laurel Grove Cemetery. In 1995 the U.S. Postal Service included Pember on a sheet of twenty stamps honoring persons and events associated with the Civil War.
Pember, Phoebe Yates. A Southern Woman’s Story: Life in Confederate Richmond. 1879. Reprint, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2002. Rosen, Robert. “New Stamp Honors Charleston-Born Confederate Heroine.” Charleston Post and Courier, June 19, 1995, p. A7.