Sunday, March 3, 2013

Catholic Nuns as Civil War Nurses

by Kristine Ashton Gunnell, Ph.D.
Approximately 600 Catholic sisters served as nurses during the civil war, both Union and Confederate. Some religious communities, like the Daughters of Charity, had nurses on both sides.
The battle of Gettysburg occurred only 8 miles from the headquarters of the Daughters of Charity in Maryland, and they were the first nurses on the scene. Records indicate that they operated 21 field hospitals for several months after the battle.
Surgeons often commented that they preferred the discipline of the religious sisters over the volunteer nurses. Catholic sisters shaped the development of military nursing during the civil war, and their service did much to soften anti-Catholic prejudice in the United States.
A good book to read on the subject is "To Bind Up the Wounds: Catholic Sister Nurses during the U.S. Civil War" by Mary Denis Maher. "Enlightened Charity" by Martha Libster and Betty Ann McNeil is an overview of the Daughters of Charity's approach to nursing and their extensive experience as trained nurses. My research is on the Daughters of Charity in Los Angeles.


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