Australian and American Female Nurses in the Armed Forces
To what extent were Australian and American female nurses treated as professionals in the armed forces?
"We have made partners of the women in this war; shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and not to a partnership of privilege and right?" U.S President Wilson, September 1918
My research for this essay showed that although there were similarities between American and Australian attitudes towards female nurses serving in their armed forces, some elements of the American War Department were more reluctant in allowing female nurses to serve as part of the armed forces in World War One.
The different types of sources consulted were useful for different purposes. For example, the Australian Defence Department website (See Web Reference 3) although very detailed, suffers the expected bias due to it being written and published by the nursing corps of the current Australian Army. I also discovered that it was essential to distinguish between different parts of the armed forces because in some instances, like the case of the US War Department and the US Army, they had conflicting views on female nurses serving in World War One.
This essay shows that there was a temporary marked change in each country towards the attitude of female nurses participating in the armed forces as the war progressed. However, after the conclusion of World War One, whilst they had earned respect for the nursing profession, their contribution was still not enough to admit them into the armed forces on a permanent basis.
The establishment of the Australian Army Nursing Service in New South Wales in 1898 (Adam-Smith, 1984, 16), and in America the creation of the Army Nursing Corps in 1901 (Bullough & Sentz, 2000, 77) opened the door for women to take part in some areas of the military, but only slightly. The outbreak of World War One was the major factor in the change of attitude towards nurses participating in the armed forces. Nurses were to become the most significant section of American and Australian women that directly took part in the war away from home.
World War One was the most significant opportunity for nurses and other groups of women to have direct involvement in public, national affairs and not just indirect private family matters as it used to be. World War One was the first time on a large scale that gave women the opportunity to choose either direct or indirect involvement.
The history of modern nursing stems from the pioneer work of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) who turned nursing into a respected profession and vocation. She also reformed hospital sanitation methods. (Cohen, 1997, 128) She worked for a year as an unpaid superintendent of a London "establishment for gentlewomen during illness,"(Cohen, 1997, 130) until she and 38 other nurses were recruited for service in the Crimean War. This was the first time women were introduced to work as...