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Reconstruction

Americans entered the war aware of the massive casualties already suffered by battling nations. Still paying benefits to 650,000 Civil War veterans and widows, the U.S. government was mindful of the cost of caring for disabled veterans. For the first time, the U.S. Army instituted a coordinated physical and occupational therapy program. This new work, called “reconstruction,” sought to restore all soldiers to physical, social, educational, and economic health. Women called “reconstruction aides” received special training to carry out this work.

Reconstruction aide
Reconstruction aide guiding patient in the use of a bead loom, Base Hospital 34, Nantes, France, August 14, 1917

Reconstruction aide massaging injured soldier, Walter Reed General Hospital, 1917–1919
National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives

Map
Map showing the distribution of sick and wounded soldiers from Europe to hospitals throughout the nation, 1918–1919
Courtesy of National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives

Footstool made by soldier in occupational therapy, 1917–1919 
Occupational therapy included handicrafts such as pottery and beadwork and technical tasks such as chair caning. This work helped men regain use of their hands, learn new skills, and ease pain and boredom.

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Reconstruction aide applying electrotherapy, 1917–1919
Courtesy of National Museum of Health and Medicine, Otis Historical Archives

Electrotherapy unit, around 1911 
Aides applied low-voltage electrotherapy to injured patients in order to promote healing and ease pain. Other physical therapy techniques included massage, exercise, and heat application.
Gift of Zachary H. Wolff Esq.

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