Adrift after the death of her husband, a German baron, and eager to aid the war effort, petitions the formidable Dorothea Dix, Superintendent of Union Army Nurses, for a job. It’s a bold move. In spite of the efforts of Florence Nightingale in the Crimea a few years before, nursing is still considered a scandalous occupation for a lady. But for Mary, barely 30, single and childless, nursing promises a new start, a purpose and a potential vocation.
She arrives at Mansion House Hospital as the new head nurse (despite her limited nursing experience) with the directive to create order out of chaos. Mary quickly realizes that she is in over her head in this gritty, occupied southern border town working in a makeshift army hospital rife with corruption and prejudice. Her liberal New England upbringing and abolitionist views rub people the wrong way: Within hours of her arrival, she encounters opposition at every turn—not just from the male staff, but female volunteers, including an uppity British nurse, Anne Hastings, and a young Confederate belle, Emma Green.
Sparks fly when she encounters a charismatic, forward-thinking physician, Dr. Jedediah Foster, who delights in mocking her extreme politics. Her only ally seems to be a young, free black man, Samuel Diggs, a laborer who harbors a secret knowledge of medicine. Undaunted, Mary attempts to carry out her mission, eventually finding a way to earn the respect of the staff and proving that women really do have a place in a man’s world.
Mary on Mary:
Mary walks into a world that is much more chaotic and messy and wild than what she was anticipating, so it is kind of a whirlwind for her when she first gets there and sees how things really work. She’s a little bit set in her ways, a little bit uptight.
I think she believes that her way of thinking is the only possible and right way, and she is forced to open her eyes to a lot of different points of view and a lot of different types of people, and also to let go a little bit of her past and her own experiences and accept this new world she is in.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead can currently be seen starring in the critically acclaimed American version of the French series “The Returned,” which premiered on A&E in spring. She was recently seen as the lead in the 2012 Sundance break-out Smashed, for which she was nominated for Best Female Lead for the 2012 Independent Spirit Awards. Her credits also include the lead in "Alex of Venice," as well as "Kill the Messenger" and "Faults," "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World," "The Thing" and "Death Proof."