Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Women Nurses in the Civil War

 From: carlisle.army.mil

Before the Civil War, most nurses in the United States were male. Women in
the U.S. knew of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse who successfully served
on the battlefield, but social taboos prevented well-to-do women from working
outside the home. A "working woman" was an object of pity or scorn in Victorian

At the beginning of the war, Union Army leadership realized that they needed
more medical staff and decided to accept women nurses to fill the gap. Dorothea
Dix was chosen as the first superintendent of U.S. Army nurses in June 1861. Dix
insisted that her nurses be between thirty-five and fifty years old, in good
health, of high moral standards, not too attractive, and willing to dress
plainly. Over three thousand nurses served the Union through Dix's appointments. 
Northern women also found ways to volunteer as nurses without going through
Dix. Regional aid societies would certify women as official nurses if they had
already proven their worth as volunteers in Union hospitals, regardless of Dix's
guidelines. Some experienced female nurses served, such as Catholic nuns, but
any matronly, responsible woman could qualify during the Civil War. The
escalating war required still more medical staff, and in 1863 the Union Army
allowed surgeons to choose their own nurses.

Army surgeons and other male staff were not always happy to see women
entering their domain. Without authority over hospitals or other medical staff,
women nurses found ways to accomplish their goals despite male resistance. When
they could not cajole, reason, or shame Army doctors into improving conditions
for the patients, the women worked around them.

In addition to providing medical care, the women nurses comforted and fed
patients, wrote letters, read, and prayed. They managed supplies and staffed
hospital kitchens and laundries. African-American nurses were often confined to
menial labor jobs, ordered to work among the most dangerously ill patients, or
assigned to care for African-American soldiers.

Female nurses in the North and South went bravely where few Victorian women
had dared tread. Many would consider their experiences to be among the
definitive ones of their lives, leading many to further social and political
service. Showing a high level of determination, knowledge, and emotional and
physical strength, these women succeeded in opening the nursing profession to
future women.

Visit www.CivilWarRx.com to learn more about Civil War nurses.


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