Nursing and Medicine
Of the American Civil War
Kristy Michelle Pickard-4756
History 2111 – Fall 2009
On April 12, 1861 in Fort Sumter, SC Confederate troops fired the first shots of the Four Year American Civil War. After the first few battles were fought, both sides faced the realization of how they desperately needed doctors and nurses to care for the injured soldiers. (1) The first nurses were recuperating soldiers (rebel) however; their own illnesses prevented them from providing proper care or returning to full military duties. These soldiers resented being appointed hospital duty. (2) Within thirty days after the call of 75,000 men by President Abraham Lincoln, the Women’s Central Association of New York chose 100 women to be trained by surgeons and physicians of New York as nurses in an army hospital. (3) In the South, women organized volunteer groups such as the Ladies Soldiers Relief Society and the Association for Relief of Maimed Soldiers. (2) The Union organized official Women’s Nursing Bureau. This agency attempted to organize numerous unpaid nursing volunteers and after much effort obtain regular salary for these women. In the South, organizations assisted soldiers of their communities such as the Ladies Aid Society of Montgomery which later became the Ladies Aid Society of Alabama which provided aid to the Alabama Division of the Chimborazo Hospital. (L) At the outbreak of the war, the nursing profession was in its infancy. Men dominated over women as females were usually “too frail to cope with rigors of sick. Military and societal protocol banned women from field hospitals so duties were assigned to men. However due to increasing casualties the gender wall was soon broke down.
Many field hospitals were not available in some cities therefore; women volunteers took soldiers into their homes. As these women set up these hospitals in their homes, they cleaned wounds, performed minor surgeries, administered treatment and performed hard physical labor. The working conditions were not the greatest. The conditions were often times deplorable and infections and disease ran rampart in the wards. Cleanliness was unheard of in the civil war hospitals. Often times there was a pungent smell of human waste, unwashed bodies and gangrenous wounds were intolerable to overpower even healthy men. The nurses would use camphor soaked cotton balls to avoid the smells. 2) The women of the households were considered “nurses” in their own rights due to tending to the sick of their own families and neighbors and this act was considered a woman’s duty. Women of the time were not allowed in medical colleges due to the medical field was considered to be the domain of men. (4) The civil war became the awakening of women in the field of medicine and helped fuel the women’s rights movements. (5) Staffing in many of the hospitals represented all levels of southern society: wealthy white men – surgeons, middle class merchants – apothecaries, skilled workers – detailed enlisted men, respectable ladies – matrons, free blacks and hired slaves – nurses, laundresses and cooks. Female nurses came from all walks of life. (6) Confederate women were enthusiastic about volunteering for service in 1861. (7) Being a nurse in the South was not considered an acceptable profession, females were considered to be too delicate and weak. Confederate nurses made great contributions with little or no training. (8) These women quickly dispelled the myth of Southern women being fragile and timid. In the conservative south, there was as a widespread feeling that a military hospital was no place for a lady. Elite volunteers were reserved for prized matron jobs. (9) The Confederate government formalized hiring of women in September 1862 and their pay scale ranged from $30-45 per month for chiefs, assistants and ward matrons. (10) As many as 3200 females would serve as salaried nurses and many more gave aid and relief to soldiers on a...
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