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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Sisters of Charity Nurse Smallpox Patients

American Civil War nurse and poet Walt Whitman observed the new social phenomenon of seeing nuns and lay women in hospitals in Washington:
 
"There are many women in one position or another, among the Hospitals, mostly as nurses here in Washington, and among the military stations; quite a number of them young ladies acting as volunteers. They are a great help in certain ways, and deserve to be mention'd with praise and respect."
 
Men weren't accustomed to encountering women in the hospitals, and some of the soldiers had never seen Catholic nuns before. A Sister of Charity in Pennsylvania wrote in her journal:
 
"Our small-pox patients appeared to think that the Sisters were not like other human beings, or they would not attend such loathsome contagious diseases, which everyone else shunned. One day I was advising an application to a man's face for poison--and I told him this remedy had cured a Sister who was poisoned. The man looked at me in perfect astonishment.
 
"'Why!' said he, 'I didn't know the Sisters ever got anything like that.' I told him 'To be sure they did. They are liable to take disease as well as any one else.' 'To be sure NOT!' he said, 'For the boys often say they must be different from other people, for they do for us what no other person would do. They are not afraid of fevers, small-pox or anything else.'"
 
PAINTING: "The Death of a Sister of Charity", 1850, by Isidore Augustin Pils

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