This article from Nurse.com provided some excellent background for the emergence of women in nursing during the Civil War. It was truly new and Louisa May Alcott was right in the forefront, volunteering her services. She of course wrote about those experiences in Hospital Sketches.
By Cathryn Domrose
Friday April 29, 2011
Vivid, dramatic images of Civil War nursing spill from history books into the American psyche: Clara Barton, her apron soaked with blood, working tirelessly beside surgeons as they amputated arms and legs. Louisa May Alcott bringing water to crying soldiers, cradling their heads in her arms, scribbling as they dictated letters home. Sally Tompkins, a captain in the Confederate army, insisting on absolute cleanliness in the hospital she ran in Richmond, Va. Dorothea Dix and Mary Ann Bickerdyke defying male surgeons and administrators to make sure their nurses and patients got the respect and resources they deserved. Phoebe Pember doing the same in the South, sometimes with the help of a pistol she kept in her pocket.
Birth of a Profession
“The Civil War launched the profession of nursing in the United States,” says Jane E. Schultz, PhD, professor of English, American studies, women’s studies and medical humanities at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, and the author of “Women at the Front: Hospital Workers in Civil War America” and “This Birth Place of Souls: The Civil War Nursing Diary of Harriet Eaton.”