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Worth a Dozen Men

Worth a Dozen Men: Women and Nursing in the Civil War South

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 328
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    Worth a Dozen Men
    Book Description:

    In antebellum society, women were regarded as ideal nurses because of their sympathetic natures. However, they were expected to exercise their talents only in the home; nursing strange men in hospitals was considered inappropriate, if not indecent. Nevertheless, in defiance of tradition, Confederate women set up hospitals early in the Civil War and organized volunteers to care for the increasing number of sick and wounded soldiers. As a fledgling government engaged in a long and bloody war, the Confederacy relied on this female labor, which prompted a new understanding of women's place in public life and a shift in gender roles.

    Challenging the assumption that Southern women's contributions to the war effort were less systematic and organized than those of Union women,Worth a Dozen Menlooks at the Civil War as a watershed moment for Southern women. Female nurses in the South played a critical role in raising army and civilian morale and reducing mortality rates, thus allowing the South to continue fighting. They embodied a new model of heroic energy and nationalism, and came to be seen as the female equivalent of soldiers. Moreover, nursing provided them with a foundation for pro-Confederate political activity, both during and after the war, when gender roles and race relations underwent dramatic changes.

    Worth a Dozen Menchronicles the Southern wartime nursing experience, tracking the course of the conflict from the initial burst of Confederate nationalism to the shock and sorrow of losing the war. Through newspapers and official records, as well as letters, diaries, and memoirs-not only those of the remarkable and dedicated women who participated, but also of the doctors with whom they served, their soldier patients, and the patients' families-a comprehensive picture of what it was like to be a nurse in the South during the Civil War emerges.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3218-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. 1-16)

    Over 620,000 American men died during the Civil War. The enemy killed only one-third of those lost; two-thirds fell victim to disease.¹ This book examines the experience of Southern women who nursed sick and wounded soldiers during the war—their contributions and sacrifices, their relationships with patients, surgeons, and the home front, and ultimately their changed sense of themselves.

    Although the war marked the beginning of the evolution of hospital nursing as a female occupation, volunteering as a nurse had little to do with professional medical aspirations and everything to do with an emerging nineteenth-century female politics. The women who...

    (pp. 17-34)

    The Confederacy lacked even a rudimentary medical system in April 1861. In the midst of creating a functioning government, the South was grossly unprepared for the inundation of sickness and casualties early in the war, creating an emergency situation that necessitated state and civilian involvement in medical care. State governments sponsored hospitals in Richmond to treat their own troops. Chaos and extreme suffering caused by influxes of sick and wounded into Southern cities and towns pulled local women into nursing and enabled both groups and individuals to establish private hospitals.

    The gap between the onset of war and the consolidation...

    (pp. 35-56)

    The staff of a modern hospital (excluding various physicians and medical specialists) includes nurses, nurses’ aides, technicians, chaplains, psychologists, nutritionists, therapists, social workers, and support staff such as janitors and kitchen workers, not to mention various levels of administrators and record keepers. In Civil War hospitals, female nurses often supervised and performed some or all of these duties. Because Southern society mobilized so extensively for war, and because so many soldiers required medical attention at some point, hospitals, and the labor of those who worked inside them, became a central feature of the military experience. One aspect of the division...

    (pp. 57-73)

    As the Civil War quickly became a more protracted and engulfing conflict than most Americans had predicted, the scope of the medical emergency led to extensive civilian involvement in medical care. Because the war was fought by elected governments and citizen recruits, public opinion remained crucial for the maintenance of the war effort. The military precedent of using detailed and convalescent soldiers as hospital attendants came under public scrutiny. In the summer of 1861, as diseases raged through the encamped armies, quality medical care became a priority for the home front, government, and military.

    Disease, and soon wounds, quickly generated...

    (pp. 74-105)

    Prewar medical care was usually administered within the household; therefore, home became the standard against which wartime care was measured. Nurses, soldiers, and citizens began with preconceived attitudes about hospitals. Although female nursing, both within institutions and in private homes, was an established and growing occupation, hospitals remained either luxurious accommodations for the wealthy or the last recourse of the desperate and poor. Most families paid local physicians to treat sick individuals within their own homes where female relatives, neighbors, and occasionally paid nurses provided the majority of care.¹

    In nineteenth-century America, nursing family members was a fundamental aspect of...

    (pp. 106-133)

    Women on the home front contributed to the care of sick and wounded men in two important ways. Those distant from the fighting created relief societies and raised supplies that helped keep hospitals stocked with food and other essential items, frequently forwarding those goods to official matrons. Women living near hospitals and battlefields often engaged directly in volunteer hospital work, nursing men in their homes, visiting hospitals to distribute food and supplies (and sometimes nursing), providing emergency relief in times of crisis, and founding and maintaining wayside hospitals. Because the war took place mainly on Southern soil, far more civilian...

    (pp. 134-154)

    The need for nurses and other attendants to staff Civil War hospitals surpassed expectations. The antebellum practice of detailing able-bodied men or using convalescent soldiers in military hospitals proved inadequate but remained in effect throughout the war. Military officers, loath to lose good men, generally relinquished their undesirables and recalled details when they pleased. Although a handful made good nurses, many convalescents were physically and psychologically unfit to nurse, while others neglected their duties. Training soldiers as nurses presented a further problem, as they could, at any time, be ordered back to the field.¹

    The Confederate Congress, on August 21,...

    (pp. 155-180)

    Potential female nurses entered military institutions run by men on behalf of male patients. Their initiation into this masculine world initially occasioned two opposite responses. Soldiers immediately welcomed women, but surgeons, who held the power, regarded women with suspicion at best. Because soldiers viewed female nurses as a reminder of home in an otherwise bleak setting, their gratitude gave women the confidence to persevere in their determination to nurse. Confederate ideology, with its focus on the protection of home, had established women as symbols of morale. The actual labor of women in hospitals gave concrete form to that image, and...

    (pp. 181-203)

    Civil War matrons changed as a result of their work. For most women, the war brought profound alterations to their sense of themselves and expanded their social connections and realm of experience, but it did not change the paramount importance of marriage and family. Following the war, Southern women had more pressing concerns than reflecting on the meaning of their work. Their psychological need to defend the Confederacy and justify their losses further inhibited a full exploration of their personal feelings about nursing. Their words and actions, nonetheless, show that nursing broadened their worlds and ultimately initiated subtle but penetrating...

    (pp. 204-222)

    According to Lost Cause literature, men emerged from the war with honor and women with renewed purity. White Southerners thus reconstructed their world and values through an embellished memory of the war. Individual hospital organizers and matrons became known as heroines, and as the Lost Cause solidified, nursing became a vital aspect of the general memory of Southern women’s participation. Even women who did not nurse, therefore, could appropriate the newfound resilience and status of hospital workers. Matrons, nurses, and hospital relief association members had played an essential role in sustaining the war effort. Hospital work simultaneously upheld feminine self-sacrifice...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 223-292)
    (pp. 293-306)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 307-318)