By Dan Roth
Recently much has been researched and written about the broad experiences of Southern women while in the role of nurses during the Civil War. Some of their sacrifices, and their relationships with patients, and surgeons, (physicians) has been reported on in the “September-October ’13 postings of the Arkansas Toothpick website.
It will be recalled that white female hospital workers in the South went by the title “matron”, and referred to their duties as nursing. Those duties became more extensive as the war progressed to where matrons assisted with actual surgical operations. While physicians directed their expertise toward treating each disease and wound, women ministered to the whole person. The willingness of female hospital workers to converse, enabled men to release their feelings and discuss their anxieties, factors that may well have improved their mental and physical well being. And just sitting beside sick and wounded men, getting to know them as individuals, asking questions about their home lives together with performing small tasks such as reading books, and writing letters for them, contributed to overall wellness.
Matrons, nurses, and hospital visitors immediately noticed the intensity of men’s gratitude for even the smallest attention and the positive reactions of the patients to their presence sustained the commitment of nurses and attendants nurses to their work. And perhaps it invigorated surgeons’ commitment as well.
Womenfolk’s positive influence on men’s behavior in camps and hospitals, moreover, improved medical care and morale. One doctor declared that the presence of women made doctors and nurses more “apt to attend to patients than they would otherwise be. And one matron observed that convalescent nurses who felt indebted to women for their previous care, made particularly dedicated attendants.
Finally the point should be made that matrons and nurses served as a link between the military and the home front. As time went on, these women became soldiers’ advocates to both medical and military authorities. This was often demonstrated by securing furlough and medical discharges which furthered wellness, but was strictly limited by the government in number. (Libra R. Hilda, "Worth a Dozen Men: Women and Nursing in the Civil War South", University of Virginia Press, 2012)