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My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira

My_Name_Is_Mary_SutterMy Name is Mary Sutter is about a well-respected midwife who dreams of being a surgeon in the Civil War era.   She gets her chance at an overcrowded Union hospital where she is given the opportunity to assist with amputations when no one else with medical training was available.  With her determination and skill she wins the respect and love of the doctors who were reluctant to believe in her.

From the Publisher (Penguin):

Mary Sutter is a brilliant young midwife who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Eager to run away from recent heartbreak, Mary travels to Washington, D.C., to help tend the legions of Civil War wounded. Under the guidance of two surgeons, who both fall unwittingly in love with her, and resisting her mother’s pleas to return home to help with the difficult birth of her twin sister’s baby, Mary pursues her medical career against all odds. Rich with historical detail-including cameo appearances by Abraham Lincoln and Dorothea Dix, among others-My Name Is Mary Sutter is certain to be recognized as one of the great novels about the Civil War.

Book Club Ideas


There are several CDs, which also have MP3 downloads, for songs that were sung during the Civil War.  Click on the book cover to try a sampling of the music.

Songs of the Civil WarSouthern SoldierCivil War Soundtrack


Mary Sutter table setting,saw,soap, gauze

Surgical accessories, such as a saw, gauze and suture kit would be a perfect decoration for a book club party for My Name is Mary Sutter.  I also recommend soap as a decoration or party favor for “if they had just washed their hands between patients, then all of those deaths could have been prevented (page 362).”

Book Club Menu

Whiskey at times was the only “medicine” available.  A Whiskey Sour will help the medicine go down a little easier.

For all her hard work, Mary treated herself to a dinner at a restaurant where she had wine, oysters, bread with butter and jam, Mutton, Mashed Potatoes and Parsnips and Lemon Pie for dessert and walnuts and almonds (page 199).  For the bread I made a Whiskey Soda Bread.

Mary Sutter Menu

Lemon Tart, Walnuts and Almonds

Other menu ideas:

  • The meals when they were not out in the field consisted of beef and potatoes (page 51).  However, in the fields the soldiers ate “beans and flour, which they fashioned into cakes they fried in lard rendered from the hogs they shot” (page 93).
  • When Mary worked at the dilapidated Union Hospital, the only things the cook knew how to cook were oatmeal and boiled beef, but unfortunately there was no beef (page 129).

Book Club Resources

Book Reviews

“Oliveira deftly depicts the chaotic aftermath of battles and develops her own characters while incorporating military and political leaders of the time. The historic details enrich the narrative without overshadowing Mary’s struggles. This well-written and compelling debut will engage all readers of historical fiction, especially those interested in the Civil War.” –Library Journal

My Name Is Mary Sutter now ranks with Cold Mountain as my all- time favorite Civil War-era novel. It is a beautifully written, fully realized, and astoundingly insightful novel, the finest and, in the best sense, most American novel about an American heroine or hero that I’ve read since The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.”
-Howard Frank Mosher, author of Walking to Gatlinburg: A Novel

“I absolutely loved Mary and I can promise you that she is a character that you will not soon forget. Mary is one of the most stubborn and persistent women that I’ve encountered in literature; however, she is also incredibly bright, strong and resilient.” – Booking Mama

Discussion Questions

  1. What did you think of Mary Sutter?   Is there a woman today that you would compare her to?
  2. Was there a time in your life when you were told you couldn’t do something you knew you were capable of doing? How did you overcome the opposition?
  3. What did Mary teach Stipp and Blevens about medicine?
  4. It is hard to imagine a time when people did not know that infection could be spread from dirty hands and instruments.  What are some other medical advances that you think revolutionized patient care?
  5. Based on your own experience with doctors, do male and female doctors treat their patients differently?  What about physicians and nurses?

About the Author

Robin Oliveira’s web site

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  1. I loved this book. My husband’s grandmother was the very first woman to graduate from New Orleans’ Tulane Medical School in 1904. I never had the opportunity to meet her, but from what I hear she was quite a remarkable woman, much like Mary Sutter.
    I had the pleasure of hearing Robin Oliveira speak this past weekend at The Texas Book Festival. She was one of three featured authors in Century Before Last: Three Novelists Channel the 1800s seminar. As a lover of historical fiction, I enjoyed the facinating insights provided by the authors on channeling their characters, and connecting to place in a particular time period.
    [img] Oliveira.jpg[/img]

    Comment by Annie

  2. I just finished reading this book. I loved how Mary didn’t let anyone or anything stand in her way.

    Comment by RobinA2

  3. LOVE historical fiction set during the Civil War era …. read this novel in 2 days!

    Comment by Momma Rancher