Nurses' duties were generally related to keeping the hospital and its patients clean. The "Rules and Directions for the better regulation of the military Hospital of the United States" described nurses' duties. They must stay clean and sober, empty chamber pots as soon as possible after use, wash new patients, wash the hands and faces of old patients, comb patients' hair daily, change linen, sweep out the hospital, sprinkle the wards with vinegar (as a disinfectant) three to four times a day, and deliver dead patients' belongings to the ward master. Nurses were forbidden to be absent without the permission of their supervising physicians, surgeons, or matrons (Danyluk, 2008).
War of 1812
Few people know that during the War of 1812, women were employed as military nurses, just as they had been during the Revolution. Commodore Decatur's ship's log reveals the names Mary Allen and Mary Marshall, entered as nurses, on board the United States, on May 10, 1813. They were still on board when the ship sailed May 24, 1813.
Mary Ann Cole served the American Army as a hospital matron during the siege of Fort Erie from July - October of 1814, during which 1,800 Americans were killed or wounded in action. As the Americans inside the fort tried desperately to hold out against British bombardment, Mary went about her duties caring for those sick in the hospital, preparing their meals, and dispensing medications and keeping medical records for the Regimental Surgeon (Bellafaire).
Early in the War of 1812, James Secord was a sergeant, wounded at the Battle of Queenston Heights. Laura Secord rescued him from the battlefield and took him home to nurse him back to health (Mazanik, 2015).
Because nursing was not yet established as a profession, most men and women came into hospitals with no specialized medical training or preparation. Instead, they were expected to learn as they went about their daily activities. Amanda Akin traveled from her home in New Jersey to Washington, D.C. to care for the wounded. (So Much Need, 2011).
“I always tried . . . to succor the wounded until medical aid and supplies could come up—I could run the risk; it made no difference to anyone if I were shot or taken prisoner.” -Clara Barton
Spanish American War
Initially, the Army and Navy Medical Departments rejected the idea of using female nurses, but the military medical system was quickly overwhelmed by the vast unanticipated number of disease-related casualties.
In May 1898, the Army began hiring contract nurses. These women were professionally-trained nurses who agreed to work for the Army, on salary, for as long as they were needed and wherever they were needed.
Kittie Whiting Eastman was a nurse during the Spanish American War. (Pictured Above)
On August 29, 1898, Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon in the US Army—the only woman to hold this military position at that time. She help to screen and select contract nurses, 250 nuns and 80 African-American nurses (Under Contract).
World War I
Bessie S. Bell served as the supervisor of nursing activities for American Expeditionary forces. Women that served in the Nurse corps during World War I did not have officer status and were not commissioned. This proved to be difficult in some instances as medics sometimes would not accept the authority of these nurses. This was eventually resolved after the war as nurses could receive officer status, with something known as “Relative rank. The relative rank meant that the nurse had rank but received less status and pay than the male counterpart (Women and World).
"Oh, the stories I'll tell when I get home," Army nurse Helen Fairchild wrote to her family in 1917.
Fairchild was one of 64 nurses from Pennsylvania Hospital Unit #10 who had volunteered to join the American Expeditionary Force after the United States entered World War I on April 6, 1917. Her letters home provide a window into a period of Nurse Corps service that is often misunderstood, and carry her story across miles and years (Patrick).
World War II
From the D-Day invasion at Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge, Nolan treated both American and German casualties. The soldiers were already in shock when they arrived in her tent, and she pumped plasma into their blood.
She was on the front lines of what were the first intensive care units on battlefields, and her work was successful. Only about 4 percent of wounded soldiers in field hospitals during World War II died (Smith, 2007).
During the beginning of World War II nurses that joined the military did not receive many benefits and were also underpaid compared to their male counter parts. However, as the war continued the need for nurses in both the civilian and military settings became so great...The Bolton Act was able to launch the United States Cadet Nurse Corps in which women that wanted to enter nursing school could do so with financial help from the government (Jamieson et al., 1966). The Bolton Act also financially supported retired nurses willing to return to work to take refresher courses (Pace, 2012).
"When President Truman ordered troops into South Korea, within a few days the Army Nurse Corps was also there. When General MacArthur landed at Inchon, Army Nurse Corps officers also went ashore on the very same day of the invasion."
One of these brave nurses was Anna Mae Hays. Commissioned in the Army Nurse Corps in 1942, she served in a hospital unit during World War II. When War broke out in Korea, she mobilized with the 4th Field Hospital in 1950 and participated in the Inchon Landing. The hospital unit cared for more than 25,000 patients during the next 10 months, one night receiving 700 wounded men. On June 11, 1970, she because the first woman in military history to attain general officer rank. On March 12, 2013 she was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame (Nurses in the Korean).
Another nurse, Captain Lillian Kinkela Keil, a member of the Air Force Nurse Corps and one of the most decorated women in the US military, was another who served her country in a nurse’s uniform. She flew over 200 air evacuation missions during WW II as well as 25 trans-Atlantic crossings. She returned to civilian flying after the war, but when the Korean War broke out she re-enlisted and flew several hundred more missions as a flight nurse (Nurses in the Korean).
Vietnam Veterans were not welcomed home as the country desperately tried to put the war behind it. Before founding of the Vietnam Women's Memorial Project, little was known of the heroism of American women. Yet over 265,000 military women served beside their brother soldiers – all of them volunteers. Approximately 11,000 American military women were stationed in Vietnam during the war (History of the).
Ninety Percent were Nurses!!!!
Today's Military Nurses
American Red Cross (Producer). (2011). Clara Barton: The Beginnings of the American Red Cross. Available
Bellafaire, Judith. America's Military Women - The Journey Continues. Women in Military Service for America
Memorial. Retrieved from http://www.womensmemorial.org/Education/WHM982.html#2.
Creative Street Entertainment (Producer). (2006). Vietnam Nurses with Dana Delany. Available
Danyluk, Kaia. (November, 2008). Women's Service in the Revolutionary Army. Colonial Williamsburg: That the