Dear Members of the Society for the History of Navy Medicine,
I write to wish you a Happy New Year as we move into 2018.
I also want to mention our challenges as well. As a small society, it has been hard over the last few years to keep the momentum going. We want to grow and attend conferences, publish academic papers and explore the history of Navy Medicine in order to bring this area of scholarship into more mainstream academic conversations and publishing. If you have not been active in a while, please consider coming to our conference in San Antonio in March. Think of other ways you can support the society.
I’ve always had an interest in Navy Nurses, especially from the World War I period when they were loaned to the US Army who did not have enough nurses. At this time, nursing included making lavender sachets for bed pillows (lavender is supposed to help one sleep), mucking out soldier troop transport trains (moving ambulances for the wounded), and writing letters back home to family members telling them of their loved one’s final hours, obviously activities far removed from what Navy Nurses do today. But in World War I, it became clear how important nurses were for patient recovery. More extensive duties included helping to establish hospitals just behind the front lines, treating mustard gas complications, and helping patients suffering from “shell shock,” a war-complication that was often considered at the time, the result of a soldier not being “man enough.” In the latter case, nurses provided psychological comfort and relief for a little-understood problem. Because of the filth associated with trench warfare, nurses were particularly helpful in cleaning wounds, and they worked mightily during the Spanish influenza pandemic of 1918 as well. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that working conditions for Navy Nurses were horrific, and none of them were officers. As women and of lower rank, it was hard for nurses to exert authority. Nursing was also deadly; 36 Navy Nurses died during the war, the greatest killer in this case being influenza.
The US Navy Corps of Nurses was established in 1908, and during World War I around 1550 Navy Nurses saw active duty. Navy Nurses took up their first “shipboard” positions shortly after the war in 1920 on the USS Relief. A few pictures are included below. Please consider coming to San Antonio in March to hear my talk on Navy Nurses.
The pictures below are from from the BUMED files. The large picture, Reeve 016486, shows nurses trying to enjoy a moment of culture at the front. They are having tea provided by the Saturday Evening Post near Sebastopol, France in 1918. The other two show Navy Nurses in 1920 aboard the USS Relief (14-0076-013, 14-0076-019).
For more on this subject see:
Again, have a Happy New Year!
Annette Finley-Croswhite, Ph.D., Executive Director, Society for the History of Navy Medicine