Women in the Civil War changed ideas about who could be a nurse

BILLIONThe 1850s and 1860s in America saw the rise of the “domestic sentimental idea”. Women are seen as examples of purity, filial piety and submission. During the pre-puberty period of the United States, precise and strict rules were recommended for the appropriate and socially acceptable behavior of women.

But civil war will change the social, economic, and political landscape for women from every walk of life in the United States — perhaps nowhere better than in nursing. Women have demonstrated remarkable adaptability in a savagely altered wartime world, responding to the immense needs of the nation while absorbing and using skills to ease the pain of the land. country.

“At the beginning of the war, ‘nurse’ meant a soldier recovering in a hospital from a wound or injury, untrained in healing, who assisted doctors with other duties, “The idea of ​​women disposing of the bodies of men who are not related to the family is inconceivable,” explains Dr. Robert D. Hicks of the College of Medicine of Philadelphia. In war, the term meant women who assisted doctors by cleaning and feeding patients, and occasionally assisting doctors in their surgeries and treatments.”

When the Civil War broke out, the governments of the divided country were unprepared for a situation of protracted and epic fighting and its resulting casualties. There were no arrangements to transport or treat the tens of thousands of injured and sick people. The armies had no medical corps or well-organized field hospital plans. An officer’s wife may accompany her husband to the battlefield, or a mother caring for a wounded son or husband, and or may choose to stay behind to care for the growing number of wounded.

The number of wounded soldiers multiplied, and epidemics raged the army. Media coverage of the lack of treatment and supplies in barracks and hospitals has inspired thousands of women to volunteer on battlefields and hospitals. They began to appear almost everywhere, in both cities and remote locations to care for wounded or sick soldiers. They are not always welcomed by doctors. The Union Army was particularly opposed to leaving women in place, believing them to be inexperienced, incompetent and disorganized. Southern tradition finds the intimate touch of nursing inappropriate for women.

It is true that most women probably have no experience with the kinds of devastating wounds and illnesses men go through, but they are willing to learn and are determined to be part of the solution, given that War “is as much a women’s war as it is a men’s war. ” Women in the North and South have encroached on areas that were not previously reserved for women in Victorian times, and it is estimated that more than 21,000 women served in Confederate military hospitals and a similar number. in the Southern Confederacy, where 10% of breastfeeding women are African Americans More than 3,000 women work as paid nurses and thousands more as unpaid volunteers. Catholics, immigrants, formerly slaves, wives and daughters The war created a way for women to play an active role in relief efforts from outside the home and family. families, take leadership roles on sanitation committees, assist with clerical work in government and business, and provide invaluable services in the care of wounded soldiers.

Studio portrait of Dorothea Dix, director of nursing for the Union during the American Civil War.

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The Union formalized an agreement in 1861, appoint Dorothea Dix as “Director of the Army Nurses.” Dix is ​​one of the American women who have traveled to England, Turkey and Crimea to learn from the legend Florence Nightingale, who transformed nursing in Europe. The American Civil War brought a new need and mission for 59-year-old Dix, who made her mark as an advocate and rehabilitator for prisoners and the mentally ill. Terrified by the massive riot, Dix took a train south to Washington, D.C., and met with the United States Secretary of War, Simon Cameron. She had offered to work as a nurse for the Confederate Army, but Cameron, impressed with her determination, organizational skills, and tenacious nature, appointed her chief nurse of the Union Army, a position she held until 1865.

Read more: How Florence Nightingale paved the way for the heroic work of today’s nurses

Dix assisted through the field of resistance and throughout the war appointed and arranged the training of more than 3,000 nurses. As the first woman to ever serve at such a high level in a federally appointed position, she plunged into the work, helping to set up field hospitals and relief stations. It is said that she has impossibly high standards for her nurses, but she continues to campaign for more formal training and increased work opportunities and responsibilities. She took good care of her nurses, women who were incredibly important in advancing the role of nurses in war and in medicine in general.

In the South, the captain Sally Louisa Tompkins, also known as the “Angel of the Confederacy,” at the age of 28, became the first woman to be drafted into the Confederate Army – also the first woman in American history to be officially enlisted. join the army. She runs a home hospital in Richmond. The medical practices of the private Robertson Hospital reflect Tompkins’ compassionate and meticulous devotion to cleanliness and care and its reputation is beginning to spread. It was said that the soldiers wounded in Richmond would seek admission to the Robertson hospital, and commanders are known to have sent their most critical cases there. To avoid accusations of fraud and evasion of military service, Federal President Jefferson Davis issued a regulation requiring all hospitals to be under the command of the military and most private hospitals to must close. In a stunning move that broke with military and social tradition, he allowed Tompkins to continue her work and kept her wonderful facility open by making her captain in the Union Army. . She can then legally maintain the hospital’s operations and obtain her medical supplies from military stores. Tompkins operated Robertson Hospital throughout the war, treating 1,334 wounded with only 73 deaths in its 45 months of existence, a survival rate of 94.5%, arguably the highest of any disease. Confederate military aid during the war.

A portrait of Harriet Tubman.

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Although devotion and dedication to the cause of relief has transcended social class and race to some extent, there are still inequalities among women. Huge contributors to this effort include many unnamed African-American women, former slaves, smugglers, and infants, who also risked their lives on the battlefield and helped. staff hospital and hospital ship. Harriet Tubman, born into slavery, is primarily known for his role as the brave commander on the Underground Railroad, a Confederate spy and scout. She is little remembered for her influential role in nursing during the Civil War. As fighting cast a shadow over the country, she offered to serve in the Union Army and traveled to South Carolina to provide much-needed nursing care to black soldiers and slaves. newly liberated. Highly skilled in the use of medicinal herbs, her ability to cure dysentery became legendary.

Ann Bradford was born into slavery in Rutherford County, Tenn., in 1830. In 1863, she risked her life to escape plantations and slavery, making her way to the Cumberland River and hiding there. At some point, she was taken aboard the Union ship USS Red Rover (a captured Confederate ship turned into a hospital ship) and was first classified as “contraband”, a term for runaway slaves. The timing of Ann’s escape was coincidental, as Union President Abraham Lincoln recently signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and Bradford’s status was elevated to “free woman”. She can legally leave the ship if she wants, but chooses to stay on board, embracing a new life by officially volunteering with the Sisters of the Lovers of the Cross of Notre Dame. Ann became the first African-American woman to serve on a Confederate military vessel and one of the first women to openly serve as a nurse in the United States Navy. She was one of five African-American women — including Alice Kennedy, Sarah Kinno, Ellen Campbell and Betsy Young — who served on that ship and was named “first class boy,” a term often applied. for young men working as sailors on general duty. In a very short period of time, Bradford transitioned from slavery to a free paid worker. Five former female slaves aboard the ship performed many responsible duties, caring for the sick and wounded, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. With no formal medical training, they rely on folk remedies from the plantations they grew up in and add their own common sense and perceptions based on startling new experiences. their nature.

During the Civil War and for several years afterward, the need for skilled professional nurses became more apparent and led to some hospitals offering informal training. Students agree to provide their nursing services to the hospital free of charge for two or three years and the hospital will provide lectures and clinical instruction to them, although linking nurse training with the patient hospitals rather than schools are allowed and encourage segregation in the health care system. For years, African-American student nurses were denied admission to all such schools except those established by African-American hospitals. The first formal nursing schools in the United States opened in 1873 and were all based on Florence Nightingale’s model for training skilled nurses. Today in the United States, more than 800 schools award nursing degrees to men and women of all races.

The desperate situations created by the Civil War led many women, North and South, nuns and laity, to break with age-old traditions and social norms to rush to the forefront of the war. . Women have stood firm against stereotypes about their strength and tenacity for years. The war has brought blood and the enthusiastic contribution of many people whose passivity is always encouraged, expected and demanded.

Adapt Healing a Divided Nation: How the American Civil War Revolutionized Western Medicine by Carole Adrienne, available now on Pegasus Books. Copyright © 2022 by Carole Adrienne.

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