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Women in the Civil War Outline

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Nurses in the American Civil War


Paris Chey

AP US History – Period 4

Mr. Peter Voorhees

January 19, 2016

  1. Introduction
  1. After the start of the Civil War, both the North and the South registered the importance of having capable and competent nurses to be able to care for the injured soldiers.
  1. Nurses were originally considered male. (Ford)
  2. Many hospitals used recovering soldiers as nurses. (Hyslop)
  3. However, many physicians eventually started to favor nurses over their original soldier nurses, deemed incompetent and unable to perform correctly, as the number of injured soldiers grew to a point where the soldiers could not fill the role of nurses alone. (Hyslop)
  4. This initiation of women in the hospital workplace not only brought help, but also introduced dissension with the already present male population.
  5. This also impacted the evolution of nursing as a job, both during and after the war.
  6. Female nurses were a turning point in the nursing profession in that they triggered encouragement for the use of the middle- and upper-class women as caretakers in both the domestic and military hospital domain once the war had ended.
  7. THESIS: The Civil War was a major event in the aspect of female nursing in that it permitted these women economic independence to make a living doing "appropriate" duties considered suitable for women. This alteration in the part in the hospital environment impacted nursing as a job for the rest of the nineteenth century.
  1. Before women became nurses
  1. Problems before women came into war
  1. Neither sides of the war were expecting so many casualties in the war; they thought it would be short and easy. (Zeinert)
  2. After the first major battle, Bull Run, at least 1,600 soldiers were wounded and taken into the city. Richmond executives had to find space for them. (Zeinert)
  3. Eventually, hospitals filled up, and there was no room for additional injured soldiers. Richmond officials asked people to open their houses to the soldiers; they complied. (Zeinert)
  4. Some people volunteered to help these injured by asking Richmonders to donate any supplies that they had that could be used to tend to the soldiers. Ex. bandages, slings, spare sheets, curtains, dresses, petticoats. (Zeinert)
  5. The massive number of injuries in Bull Run made the North and the South closely examinate their corps. They found that there were 38 trained doctors in both the North and the South. The Union only had 2 horse-drawn ambulances suitable to work and very few medical utensils that they could use to help any injuries. The South had even less supplies. (Zeinert)
  6. Both the North and the South tried to establish an adequately-stock of medical supplies, neither side was truly ready to face the number of injuries that a major battle delivered. (could be 1000). Both sides had to make do with what they had as medical tools. (Zeinert)
  7. They transformed hotels and other buildings into hospitals. Some surgeons ended up amputating limbs on a makeshift table, commonly just a door on top of two barrels. (Zeinert)
  8. Whiskey was used in place of chloroform (made patients unconscious) when it was running low. Doctors often provided patients a bullet to bite on to suppress their screams. (Zeinert)
  9. The scarcity of doctors increased the pressure on the field surgeons. No medical caretakers rested until after all the injure were tended to. Many doctors commonly fainted due to exhaustion after treating hundreds or thousands of soldiers. After he was resuscitated, he then went back to work. (Zeinert)
  1. Discussing the topic of female nurses
  1. Both the North and the South's armies were hesitant when the conversation shifted to incorporating women into the medical corps. (Zeinert)
  1. Many officials were unsure of womens' abilities; they doubted that women could withstand the grim scenes they would witness on the battlefield and in the hospitals. (Zeinert)
  1. Women were considered too fragile to experience the violence and death in war. (Ford)
  2. people were particularly against the fact that it was an atmosphere surrounded by the awful happenings of war. (Wagner)
  1. Many people believed that women interacting so closely with men was considered licentious. (Williams)
  1. Additionally, adversaries to women nurses contended that it was considered unfitting of women to care for injured soldiers. They suggested that these soldiers were comprised of moral and immoral men, and the immoral men could potentially verbally or physically abuse the nurses. (Zeinert)
  1. Other adversaries believed that it would be unsettling if women undressed the injured soldiers and saw them in such a vulnerable state, due to the fact that many injuries would require undressing to tend to the wounds. This opinion was so powerful that Elizabeth Blackwell, the first American woman to earn a medical degree in 1849, was forced to leave her lecture hall at Geneva Medical College when male anatomy was discussed. (Zeinert)
  2. Many other adversaries argued that females had almost none if not no experience as nurses. (Zeinert)
  3. there were many disagreements with allowing women to become nurses, partially due to the fact that it was an originally male atmosphere. (Wagner)
  1. Many male surgeons feared the loss of male privilege would come with the increase of female administration. (Humphreys)
  1. Why they were finally accepted as nurses
  1. As the war continued and more injuries and deaths occurred, women were permitted to be nurses, due to the need for more medical assistance. (Ford)
  2. the complexity of the civil war ended up being too desperate for help to exclude women. (Wagner)
  3. Even though there were many people opposed to women working as nurses, they failed to recognize the lack of medical assistance that could be fixed with women. Due to this, both troops allowed women to volunteer to help. (Zeinert)
  4. Many lower-class women were nurses, and they did not seem threatening to the physician's jobs at all times. (Humphreys)
  1. Reasons for wanting to become nurses
  1. Some women decided to become nurses to defend their land, while others felt sympathy for the wounded and wanted to assist them. Others joined because they were convinced that God had called them to help the soldiers. (Zeinert)
  2. Any man that volunteered to be a soldier was considered a hero. Any woman who cared for him shared the admiration of the soldier. Many women who volunteered to be nurses did so to attain this admiration and glory. Many others wanted to earn money to care for their families. Very little women volunteered to be nurses to create a name in the medical profession for themselves, as they were uneducated and unlicensed. (Humphreys)
  1. During the War
  1. How women became nurses
  1. There were three methods of becoming a nurse in the Union. (Zeinert)
  1. enter a unit when it was created. The nursing positions in these units were not permanent, and they would dismantle when the unit did. (Zeinert)
  2. join the Women's Central Relief Association in NYC, operated by Elizabeth Blackwell. Blackwell's nurses trained professionally before they tended to soldiers. (Zeinert)
  3. Join one of Dorothea Dix's federal groups. Dix became well-known for always arguing for good conditions when discussing living and treatment for her patients in any mental institution. The Union welcomed her when she volunteered in 1861, due to her ability to organize with ease and her resolve to always help her companions. She was supervised by Dr. William Hammond. (Zeinert)
  1. In the North, Dorothea Dix helped to volunteer her help and recruit nurses. (Humphreys)
  2. She was immediately given the nickname "Dragon Dix". (Savage)
  3. Dix believed that her nurses should be unattractive and stern; due to this, she provided a dress code for her nurses. (Savage)
  4. "No woman under thirty years need apply to serve in government hospitals. All nurses are required to be very plain-looking women. Their dresses must be brown or black with no curls, no jewelry and no hoop skirts." - Dorothea Dix (Savage)
  5. Dix earned an official military commission, which was to control all of the Union nurses, and she earned the title Superintendent of Women Nurses. Originally, Dix and her nurses were instructed to help in Washington with any additional flood of wounded that regiment nurses could not handle by themselves. However, the necessity for more medical assistance in the hospitals close to battlefields kept increasing, and eventually, Dix's corps also became part of the U.S. Sanitary Commission. the U.S. Sanitary Commission controlled all of the medical actions in the North. (Zeinert)
  6. Dix only wanted adult and reputable women in her hospital who could act stern. (Zeinert)
  7. Many women still desired to offer their services to Dix, despite the harsh regulations. Many candidates brought a list with many integrity testimonials in their favor. Those who acquired the job received $12 a month. (Zeinert)
  8. Dix's nurses struggled with staying busy; they were taught in their specific hospitals in which they would work. (Zeinert)
  9. Many nurses disputed with those in charge. Many were resistant in mindlessly complying with a doctor. This was due to Dix's method to hire nurses and the corps' pressure to place ready or not ready medical services in the field. Dix looked for confident and strong women. Many of the women who she hired were older, and had tended to more patients than that of the younger doctors. As a result, these nurses were unafraid to question their authority figure. (Zeinert)
  10. Beside the fact that Dorothea Dix wanted her nurses to refrain from distracting the soldiers or ensuing inappropriate comments from them, she also set up her regulations for nurses due to the fact that many women were compelled to join the hospitals to on the off chance that they might find a husband. (Williams)
  1. In the Confederacy, many women created their own hospital systems. (Beller)
  1. In the South, it is more difficult to tell how nurses were recruited. Confederate states did not set up any type of hospital system, but rather they created individual hospitals in each state, depending on where battles took place. Many women were asked to run these hospitals just as they ran plantations at home. (Humphreys)
  2. Southern women as nurses disobeyed regular custom, due to the opinion that women were too delicate to be nurses. (Smith)
  3. When most of the battles took place in the south, many homes opened up to care for the injured. (Smith)
  4. South-private homes commonly became temporary hospitals. The female nurses aided Confederate soldiers with possibly more care than they would have gotten elsewhere. (Dunne)
  1. Nurses' Jobs
  1. Nurses in the Civil War were not anything like modern nurses. A better type of description for these women were hospital workers, due to the complex amount of jobs that they performed. (Humphreys)
  1. "Till noon I trot, trot giving out rations, cutting up food for helpless 'boys,' washing faces... dressing wounds... dusting tables, sewing bandages, keeping my tray tidy, rushing up down with pillows, bed linen, sponges, books directions, till it seems as if I would joyfully [give anything] for fifteen minutes rest." -Louisa May Alcott (Ford)
  2. Women organized functions that sewed, rolled bandages, and prepared food for the soldiers. (Humphreys)
  3. Women performed different duties: some fed, cleaned, clothed, and carried the injured to hospitals. Others traveled to the battlefields and fed/hydrated the injured. Many of these drinks thought to hydrate the injured included alcoholic drinks, due to the need to trigger "stimulation" to respond to shock. (Humphreys)
  4. Women cleaned and organized hospitals while also providing quality care for the soldiers. Nurses also served as friends for the soldiers, trying to lift their spirits by singing, writing to the soldier's loved ones for them, and decorating the hospital with furniture such as brightly colored curtains. (Ford)
  1. Struggles of Nursing
  1. Women and men both had no experience or teaching as nurses. (Ford)
  2. Nurses did not eat much. They commonly worked constant hours with little rest. Sometimes, their only place to rest was the ground, without being able to clean the blood from injured soldiers off of their clothes. Nurses worked at any hours. They constantly suffered from inflamed hands and blistered feet. (Ford)
  3. "Nurses would be subjected to long hours, difficult working conditions, the smell of festering wounds, and the sight of bleeding stumps where arms or legs had once been." (Zeinert)
  4. It was more probable that southern women saw and felt the instant consequences of war. Occasionally, northern women would travel as close to the front lines as possible and tend to soldiers who had come from the front. However, most northern women mostly tended to the men in the general hospitals, a good ways away from the battlefield. Many southern women actually lived in the fighting areas, and commonly found injured soldiers around their homes. (Humphreys)
  5. Many nurses were afraid to report malpractice or immoral actions. (Humphreys)
  6. Many surgeons were so unsettled by the defiant nature of the nurses that they requested to not have any women on their staff. Many doctors attempted to hire nuns over the women workers, because it was probable that they would be more compliant. (Zeinert)
  7. Some women could not stomach the sights that they saw during their nursing careers. Many lower class women did not have this problem. Many lower class women did the tedious chores of cleaning laundry and floors, as well as bed linen and pans. many higher ranked administrators respected them very little. (Williams)
  8. Being a nurse during the Civil War was risky. Many nurses died during service and others dealt with enduring illnesses. More injuries included becoming deaf, physically becoming unable to function, contracting diseases, and permanent scarring. (Williams)
  1. Benefits
  1. Nurses had no permanent loyalty to the hospitals. They could work anywhere from up to a week to half of a year. Usually, they ended their nursing shifts if family issues arose. (Humphreys)
  2. Some nurses would be very close with the soldiers they cared for, unclothing them and washing their bodies. Other nurses, usually middle-class, almost never saw the soldiers' skin. They usually let lower-class women or male nurses do such jobs. (Humphreys)
  3. Despite the fact that many men and doctors constantly complained about women nurses, several others were very appreciative of the womens' contribution to the war. Along with the support of these people, the soldiers also cherished the work that the nurses did. (Williams)
  1. Male doctors lessened the value of women nurses, but injured soldiers contradicted this statement in their memoirs. many soldiers thought that having a woman in the hospital provided mercy and tender care, as opposed to other nurses who did not treat them the same way. (Wagner)
  2. The Union's surgeon general William A. Hammond announced that he would require at least a third of all nursing staff to be female. (Zeinert)
  1. Impact on Future Generations
  1. Many women became respected for their job in medicine.
  1. Mary Edwards Walker 1832-1919 (Wagner)
  1. The progress that women made during the civil war as nurses was substantial. Even walker's ranking was particularly impressive; many other women were uncomfortable with the idea. (Wagner)
  2. Graduated from syracuse medical college; created a practice in Ohio; nursed injured in different military operations (Wagner)
  3. Gained position of a surgeon with the Fifty-Second Ohio Infantry: became first women to be a surgeon in the army. She stayed as surgeon until june 1865. (Wagner)
  4. 1866-became first female to receive the Medal of Honor. (Wagner)
  1. The relationship between the nurses during the Civil War and the ones after the War is very complicated. Many doctors and hospital executives realized that the role nurses played during the Civil War was crucial and indicated their capability of being nurses. (Schultz)
  1. The American Medical Association requested that hospitals and training schools for nurses be linked with each other. The AMA had come to this conclusion through the guidance of the doctors who had worked alongside the women nurses, and through many organizations with the strong opinion that the continuation of women as nurses would improve hospitals. (Schultz)
  2. 1873-The first self-sufficient training program for nurses arose in NY, Boston, and New Haven hospitals. Many doctors began to realize and admit that they needed a competent workforce, thus the emergence of hospital schools. (Schultz)
  1. Conclusion

Working Bibliography

Beller, Susan Provost. American Voices from the Civil War. Tarrytown, NY: 
     Benchmark Books, 2003. 

Dunne, Jemima, and Paula Regan, eds. 
The Civil War: A Visual History. N.p.: 
     Dorling Kindersley Limited, 2011. 

Ford, Carin T. Women of the Civil War Through Primary Sources. Berkeley Heights, 
     NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2013.



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