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The Diary of a Civil War Nurse

A Wartime Role for Women

With no specialized medical training or preparation, Amanda Akin arrived at Armory Square Hospital on an April evening in 1863 to begin work. Nursing was not yet established as a profession, and most men and women who took on these roles were expected to learn as they went about their daily activities.
Female nurses were newcomers to military hospitals. Convalescent soldiers continued to fill most of the nursing positions, especially in field hospitals and in camp, where conditions were considered unsuitable for women. At Armory Square Hospital the female nurses shared their duties with male “attendants.”
During the war, the title of “nurse” was often reserved for white middle- and upper-class women. However, along with these “lady nurses,” as they were known, others from diverse backgrounds working as matrons, cooks, laundresses, or without title performed many of the same tasks.

“We pass up and down among these rough men without fear of the slightest word of disrespect. They feel their dependence upon us for comfort and entertainment, and the difference in the wards where there is no ‘lady’ shows how much can be done for them.”
—Amanda Akin, 1863
Our Women and the War, illustration from Harper's Weekly

“Our Women and the War”
This illustration from Harper’s Weekly, September 6, 1862, depicts the array of women’s Civil War roles that drew on traditionally feminine activities, from sewing and laundering to nurturing ill and wounded patients. (Courtesy of National Library of Medicine)

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