This was a time where there was no such thing as Social Security. When pensions became available for widows of Civil War fatalities, Mary Elizabeth's application was rejected. A local Cincinnati attorney, Herbert Jenney, became familiar with Mary Elizabeth's case while she was working as a nurse taking care of his wife. He took it upon himself to compile all of the documentation necessary to make a case for awarding her a pension. On January 25, 1875, a bill (H.R. 4489) was introduced by the local congressman, Mr. Banning, to grant a pension to Mary E. Wain(w)right.
In a letter addressed to the Honorable H. B. Banning, House of Representatives, Mr. Jenney stated:
"She (Mary E.) is a hard-working woman who has since her husband's death had a hard time of it to support her three children. They now assist some: the two girls by sewing and the boy earns a trifle as one of the messenger boys of the Telegraph Company. They have all they can do to get along. Mrs. Wainright is a professional nurse and while nursing my wife I became interested in her case. I will here state that I have taken hold of her case purely from a desire to help her and not as a matter of law -- all my services will be gratuitous. If you can obtain a pension for her, you will be doing a charitable act I can assure you."
In a second letter, Mr. Jenney wrote to General Burck, Chairman of the Committee on Invalid Pensions for the House of Representatives. Some of the facts listed above were restated. He also added this:
"Although her husband was not regularly enlisted at the time of his death and did not meet his death on the battle field, yet it was caused by his exertions to repel the raid of John Morgan and was a great an act of patriotism as if he had been a regularly enlisted man and met his death in any of the battles."
Until this article was published in The Prologue, a journal of the National Archives, I would have never known that such private claims and appeals could be made to Congress and that the accompanying paperwork could contain so many valuable clues for genealogists. In fact during the years of Reconstruction following the Civil War (1865-1877), 10,136 claims were submitted to the House of Representatives from the 39th to 44th Congresses. Almost half (4,259 claims, 42 percent) of the claims dealt with pensions for military service. "The vast majority of those claims, not surprisingly, related to service in the Civil War (2,995 claims, 70 percent). "
As I have a copy of the Pension Index, I know that Mary Elizabeth eventually did get a pension. It was for $8 a month. To think that $8 a month could make such a difference for a family of four. Once again I am impressed with the ability of my ancestors to survive in such stressful times. Every day I realize how blessed I am.