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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Care of recruited nurses and how they were trained, stationed and provisioned

The need for nurses to assist doctors, dentists, medics, stretcher bearers and ambulance drivers was immediate after Congress declared war in April 1917.

Since at that time, the United States had a very small standing army, expanding the current base to a fighting force of more than 1 million meant the development of a huge and almost instant medical assistance group.

Furthermore, recruiting women meant an entirely separate set of arrangements for training, transport, domicile and services had to be built into the organization of a mobile fighting army, navy and marine corps. Providing our fighting forces and medical support unit with barracks—or some similar accommodations—required either appropriation of current homes, chateaux, public buildings such as hotels, etc., or building them.

In France, many donated the use of their homes and chateaux. Many towns and cities offered their public buildings, such as city halls or old factories. The result was that nurses, in particular, those back of the line, might sleep in very nice surroundings—and others find themselves in tents.
Here are a few examples:
Base Hospital #3, Vauclaire, France
Tents used by Evacuation Hospital #1

Accommodating one million men as well as approximately 40,000 medical professionals (including 22,00+ nurses was a huge task, necessary to care of the American fighting man. But it was also a difficult one, made more complex by the fact that women were still considered to be the "weaker sex." Separation of them from their male counterparts implied not only sequestered housing accommodations but also dining, bathing (if possible considering field conditions) and latrine facilities. In the early days of the American war effort, the women even had separate common rooms where they spent their off-duty hours. However, as the frequency and intensity of battles increased, many of these social constraints bowed to the need for efficient responses by medical personnel. As mobile units, immediately behind the lines, became overwhelmed with casualties and as allied hospital units (particularly the French) were destroyed in German advances, social strictures of separating women from the men fell.
Male officers mess, Vichy Hospital Center

What these nurses did not have was rank within the Army.

To quote the Army official history of nursing service (from ):
"Army nurses during World War I did not have officer status. They were not commissioned, but appointed into the ANC. Medics sometimes refused to accept nurses’ authority on the wards. After the war, Congress, to show their appreciation, gave nurses officer status by allotting them “Relative Rank,” meaning that an Army nurse first lieutenant, for example, received less pay and status than a male first lieutenant."

Other challenges of supply and demand caused controversy within the Nurse Corps command and among other leaders within the greater Army. The most vital need was, of course, to recruit as many qualified, well-trained nurses as possible as quickly as possible. When that number lagged behind quotas, the Army decided to recruit unqualified women to serve abroad. Many of these women worked in other professions or had none at all, joining out of national pride and compassion for wounded Americans. For these women, they were sent to training camps for what we would call a crash course in medical emergency care. Many of them had no idea how to use a hypodermic needle or change a dressing. To train many of these women quickly, the Army established its Army Nursing School and pushed through many aides toward the front.

Another controversial issue was the "separate but equal" status of African-Americans. Black men were enlisted as soldiers and Marines, but were assigned to units separate from white troops. This meant that they would also receive medical care apart from their white brothers in arms. Hence, black women who volunteered to join the nursing corps were also enlisted and served black combat units in "separate but equal" facilities.