Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Research----Worth a Dozen Men: Women, Nursing and Medical Care During the American Civil War; Dissertation In Search of a Publisher

Worth a Dozen Men: Women, Nursing and Medical Care During the American Civil War, Libra Rose Hilde, Harvard University, 2003.

CWL--- I am probably one of a small group who periodically search Dissertation Abstracts to find new scholarship on the Civil War. Also, I am one of a even smaller group who actually borrow dissertations through inter-library loan and read a few chapters of a dissertation just for fun; dissertations are not indexed, so I read chapters. Well, what can I say? I am like that. And yes, I do read the 30+ page bibliographies.

Jane E. Schultz's, Women at the Front: Hospital Workers In Civil War America (2004) looks broadly at women, such as laundresses, cooks, matrons and nurses in soldiers' hospitals during the war. Libra Rose Hilde's dissertation, Worth A Dozen Men, focuses on nursing during wartime. The nursing profession, its ideals and it practical applications provide the focus of the first 130 pages of the dissertation. The social changes which the profession of nursing passed through are presented in the next 400+ pages. The movement of females into the nursing profession, the conflicts male doctors and female nurses, and the emotional support of female nurses for male patients are thoroughly presented.

Hilde's tenth chapter stands as a nice complement to Drew Gilpin Faust's This Republic of Suffering (2008). 'Far From Home and Mother: Death in Civil War Hospitals' begins with Ada Babcock's diary entry. "There was another death . . . he was very much frightened, & I am told wept nearly all day yesterday. I am so sorry I did not know it, I would have gone to him & tryed [sic] to ease his last moments." Also, Chapter 7, Women's work in Civil War Hospitals, stands well by itself. "The traditional female roles shaped middle and upper class women's official duties in the South. Expectations regarding motherhood, domestic nursing, and female sympathy and piety determined a typical suite of unofficial duties that women . . . from ward nurses to chief matrons, added to their daily routine." (p. 315)

"Middle and upper class Southern women frequently lacked experience with the more basic labor involved in their positions. Suddenly place in charge of a kitchen and feeding hundreds of men, Phoebe Pember quickly adapted despite unfamiliarity handling certain types of food. "For the first time I cup up with averted eyes a raw bird . . . .' " (p. 323) The chapters I read frequently use anecdotes similar to Pembers' to illustrate the the point being made.

A small or large publisher, looking for a an item in the Civil War field, would do well to examine Hilde's dissertation for a book length or booklet length publication.

Photo: Nurses and Officers of the U.S. Christian Commission at Fredericksburg, Virginia. Library of Congress

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