Nursing During Civil War

The American Civil War occurred between 1861 and 1865. When the war began, there was no organized medical corps for either the Union Army or the Confederate Army. Up until then, nursing was still considered a “loose term” as far what a nurse is and does. There were no official nursing schools or professional trained nurses available. As newspapers wrote about the poor and unsanitary conditions that wounded solider were subjected to, hundreds of women volunteered to help provide assistance to the wound solders (Egenes).

Make-shift hospital and clinics were created on the battlefield to care for the wounded. As a result of having no organized medical corps in the army, conditions at most of the hospitals were poor. More soldiers during this time died of complications other than battlefield wounds such as dysentery, small pox, and pneumonia. (Son of the South). Hospitals were overcrowded and nurses lacked adequate quality of food and water, clean clothing, sanitation equipment, and other medication supplies to properly provide care for the injured.

Because of this, hospitals were breeding grounds for disease and death. During this time, army physicians did not favor female volunteer nurses, believing female nurses were inexperienced and disorganized. Several woman help elevate the status of nurses during the Civil War and on. One woman that did just that was Dorothea Dix. Dix was a school teacher that was appointed as the Superintendent of Army Nursing for the Union Army.

Through her position she was able to help organized medical efforts, set standards for military nurses, and to lobby for medical supplies for the Union Army.

Another woman that had an impact on nursing was Clara Burton, also known as “Angel of the Battlefield. After her father died, she began to collect supplies and provide care to the wounded at the front lines. As word around the army grew about her compassion and care, Burton began getting support for her cause and the nursing cause as a whole. After the war, she continued her efforts in nursing and eventually inaugurated a movement to gain recognition for the International Committee of the Red Cross by the United States government (Epler).

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