RABBITT HOLE: THE HISTORY OF US MILITARY NURSES

I have “gone down a rabbit hole” today. What this means is that I started out sincerely doing research for Aunt Sally’s book, but I got lost reading about things I don’t intend to use, but they are interesting, nonetheless. Today’s “rabbit hole” is about the history of the military nursing staff in the United States. So here goes…

The thirteen original colonies which became the United States of America organized the Continental Army to fight the Revolutionary War of 1776. “Nurses” were needed to care for the sick and wounded soldiers. They were mothers, wives, and sisters of the troops. Their medical training was scant, and some were more acquainted with assisting their neighbors in labor and delivery. They cared for military casualties in tent hospitals and requisitioned private homes. They also cleaned the makeshift dispensaries, did laundry, made the meals, and managed the inventory of needed supplies.

Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, military nurses were not needed. But when war broke out between our own citizens, the battles were widespread in the North and the South, and casualties required nurses again. More than 3000 female and about 500 male volunteers worked dressing wounds, feeding, and bathing patients, and attending the dying. Many nurses fell ill themselves since they seldom got enough rest and were exposed to contagious diseases. In 1898, when the Spanish American War commenced, fifteen hundred contract nurses were mobilized, working to quell yellow fever, malaria, and other tropical diseases. These professional nurses’ efforts ushered in a permanent female nurse corps in the Army.

After the Spanish American War, the number of Army nurse corps members shrank to 220. The number rose to 450 during the Mexican border uprising in 1916. World War I saw nursing numbers swelling to 21,460 officers with 10,000 serving oversees in 1918. African American nurses were also admitted to the Nursing Corps for the first time. But segregation policies prevented them from rising in the military ranks until the War was over. By that time, it was estimated that one-third of all American nurses had served in the Army.

US military nurses continued working in hospitals and mobile units, displaying flexibility and focus on a variety of assignments from hospital trains in France to transport ships carrying wounded soldiers across the Atlantic. They were stationed at permanent facilities in the continental US, France, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. In 1920, Army nurses were allowed to progress from second Lieutenant to Major, although their pay remained half that of men of the same rank. From patients to active generals, the nurses’ outstanding performance was celebrated. This support, along with organized nurses lobbying for better treatment and higher pay, led to improving opportunities for these women. Their diligence began to pay off, but still lagged behind the men in service.

Onto this scene emerged our heroine, Ethel “Sally” Blaine Millett.

NEXT WEEK: NO RABBIT HOLES JUST MOREOF SALLY’S STORY!

Source: American Nurse Corps Association  https://e-anca.org/History/ANC-Eras/1901-1940

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