Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War, 1861–1865

Mary Whitney Phelps ~ Tent #22 ~ Springfield, Missouri


Mary Whitney was orphaned at an early age. At the end of the Civil War she was honored by being appointed to care for postwar needs in the area by President Lincoln when he heard of her compassionate efforts during the war.

She was so highly thought of that in 1851 when Christian College was chartered, the girls named their literary society and library in her honor. Her husband John Phelps was a trustee and congressman at the time. Incidentally, Christian College, now Columbia College in Columbia, MO, remained open during the Civil War while the University of Missouri was closed.

During the war Mary stayed home while her son was off fighting. On August 10, 1861, Union General Nathaniel Lyon was killed in the battle of Wilson's Creek. He was the first Union General to meet his death in the war. His body could not be properly cared for before the Union forces retreated. Mrs. Phelps took the body to the farm and later temporarily buried it until his family could come and claim the body. Congress awarded her $20,000 for her service in caring for General Lyon's body.

Mrs. Phelps used the money to establish an orphanage for children who had lost their fathers in the war. When the money ran out she organized fund raisers.

In If Walls Could Talk by Jean Carnahan, Mary was reported to be a 26-year-old, red-headed divorcee who had a seamstress business in Connecticut. John Phelps was a 23 year-old lawyer in the family law firm. His father threatened to disinherit Phelps if he married Mary. They married anyway and moved to Missouri. John lost no time in finding clients and he was so popular that he was asked to represent Springfield in the General Assembly.

When John Phelps was elected to the U. S. Congress Mary stayed in Springfield and managed the farm, operated a school, and cared for her family. Mary did not live in the Governor's Mansion when John became Governor in 1877. Nor did she attend the inauguration due to ill health. She died January 15, 1878 of pneumonia. Their daughter, Mary Ann Phelps Montgomery, left her home in Oregon and with her five children moved in to serve as hostess. Her sixth child was the first grandchild of a governor to be born in the new mansion. Mrs. Montgomery was a popular hostess and continued socializing with heads of state in the U.S. and Europe. She hosted royalty during the 1904 World's Fair.

In addition to Mary Phelps' work with suffrage, she tended the orphanage as superintendent and teacher, and managed a cheese-making venture conducted on her farm near Springfield.

Mary Whitney Phelps is a fine lady to recognize by naming Tent #22 in her honor.

Image is a copy of a picture found behind a Civil War-era flag in the possession of Montgomery Brookfield, the great-great-great grandson of Mary Whitney Phelps. Copy donated to Tent 22.