This is a guest post and infographic about the history of nursing in the US Military.
Few careers give you the chance to have a profound impact on the course of history like nursing. Since the birth of the United States, nurses in the armed forces have made a significant impact on the lives of thousands of people. Military nurses have been caring for those dedicated to fighting for freedom since the Revolutionary War.
As with any war, the American Revolution brought forth an array of casualties. During the battle for independence from Britain, George Washington sought the aid of Congress in tending to the injured soldiers of the Continental Army. He knew and successfully convinced lawmakers that a victory against the Monarchy would not be possible with hundreds of injured soldiers incapable of fighting. Throughout history, male soldiers routinely provided nursing care; however, Congress approved the hiring of one woman to care for every 10 injured soldiers; this is well before nursing had become the regulated industry that it is today.
Women were initially paid $2.00 per month and one daily ration during service in the Continental Army, but the wage had risen to $8.00 by the end of 1777. According to the U.S. Army, today’s military nurses are eligible to receive a sign-on bonus of up to $30,000, little to no-cost health and dental insurance, student loan forgiveness programs — which may help alleviate up to $120,000 of debt — and 30 days of paid vacation every year.
The outbreak of the Civil War saw an unprecedented number of men fall to fire when the Union fought the seceding Confederacy, and nurses were needed even more than during the Revolutionary War. There were still no education requirements for nurses at this time, and women, who aided in cooking and making clothes for soldiers, in addition to providing nursing care, were paid $12.00 per month. Nursing care continued to be provided by both men and women, but that would soon change.
In 1898, thousands of men perished at the hands of tropical diseases during the Spanish-American War. The U.S. Army granted a contract to 1,500 female nurses to provide help during the war, but 20 of them lost their own lives. At this point, the need for a governing agency for nurses in the military became evident, and Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee found herself drafting a bill to create the first Army Corps of Nurses in 1901, Carrington explains. The Army Corps of Nurses, which is the organization that all U.S. military nurses are a part of today, took immediate action towards regulating nursing in the military by forbidding men from performing nursing care. Seven years later, the Navy established their own Corps of Nurses as well.
World War I
As the world erupted into battle in 1917, more than 21,000 Army nurses and almost 1,500 Navy nurses joined the crusade against the Central Powers. Although 116,516 U.S. soldiers lost their lives during WWI, the number of deaths may have doubled without the care provided by these nurses, especially considering that nearly 400 nurses died from infections like the Spanish Flu. The courageous actions of nurses during WWI contributed to the passage of the Army Reorganization Act of 1920; this act recognized military nurses as holding slightly higher standing in the military than held previously.
World War II
WWII called up thousands more nurses than any battle before, approximately 74,000 women. In fact, the battle required so many more nurses than were available that the Cadet Nurse Corps sprang into existence, training 125,000 women for military service as nurses in 1943. Following WWII, military nurses were finally granted commissioned officer status, which paved the way for women to advance their careers in the military.
Text and Graphic ©2015 by Monika Gomez