The Sanitary Fair at Brooklyn

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The Sanitary Fair at Brooklyn [The Academy of Music, Montague Street, with the Bridge Across to New England Kitchen]
March 5, 1864
Unknown Artist
Page 380
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. No. 440 Vol. 17
Oversize A 5 .34 Vol. 17
Newberry Library

This is an illustration of the Brooklyn Sanitary Fair which opened on February 22, 1864, timed to coincide with George Washington’s birthday. This image shows the part of the fair called the “New England Kitchen.” This was similar to a modern day “living history exhibit,” for it tried to recreate the large open fireplace, old fashioned cooking methods, and handicrafts (like spinning and carding wool) associated with colonial New England. Can you see the dried corn cobs hanging above? The ladies in the background are preparing food for visiting New Yorkers.

This event was one of many regional Sanitary Fairs organized by Northern women to raise funds for the U.S. Sanitary Commission, a government organization established to aid wounded soldiers and keep soldiers on the battlefronts healthy. Though the organization was officially led by men, women were the head planners of the Sanitary Fairs across the nation. The Commission gathered supplies, ran hospitals, organized nurses, and sent volunteers to teach soldiers how to keep their camps clean and avoid diseases. The Brooklyn Sanitary Fair raised $400,000 selling everything from fine art and collectibles to homemade crafts, photographs, and even a piano. One of the most famous items sold there was an autographed letter from Abraham Lincoln, who wrote it just for that purpose! By the end of the war, Sanitary Fairs nationwide had raised a total of four million dollars.


1. Sanitary Fairs were one way that civilians, the people at home, could help support the soldiers and the government. What were other ways that civilans, could show their patriotism or support of the war?

Further reading:
Brooklyn Public Library website.
History of the Brooklyn and Long Island Fair, February 22, 1864 (Brooklyn: The Union Steam Presses, 1864).

Gordon, Beverly. “Bazaars and Fair Ladies: The History of the American Fundraising Fair.” Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998.

Courtesy of the Newberry Library, Chicago