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.


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

Feisty From The Start

Sally wasn’t always called Sally. That nickname came later. She was born Ethel Lenore Blaine, in February of 1915, on her parents’ farm outside the tiny town of Bible Grove in northeast Missouri. Ethel was the tenth of thirteen children. Their farm house had a porch all across the front side of the house. The flat roof of that porch had a low railing made with real two by fours, and the top of that railing was four inches wide. Ethel’s brothers used to drag their bedding through an upstairs window and out onto that porch in the summer and sleep where they had a chance of feeling a summer breeze now and then, unlike the still, dead air inside the hot upstairs bedrooms. The girls weren’t allowed to sleep out there because, well, they were girls.

One night, when Ethel was about eight years old, she came out on that roof in her nighty while she was sleep walking, which she was known to do. Young Millard woke up and poked his brother Mayhue.

“Hey, look!” he whispered. “Ethel just climbed out the window in her sleep!”

Mayhue put one elbow under himself. “What’s she doing?”

Ethel walked across the roof, avoiding the boys lying on their bedding, and she hopped right up onto that railing.

“Look!” Millard whispered. “She’s getting up on the railing! She’s gonna walk around the railing!”

And the boys watched, spellbound and silent, as Ethel proceeded to walk all the way around that porch railing, balancing with her arms, not missing a step. Then she hopped down, climbed back through the window, and went back to bed.

“Did that really happen?” asked Mayhue.

Older brother Carl was now awake too. “Well, you’ve gotta say one thing about our sister Ethel: she is brave enough to try anything—even in her sleep!”

Next week: Go West, Young Gal, Go West!