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Statistics on Female Attendants in the Medical Department for National Nurses' Day

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  • Statistics on Female Attendants in the Medical Department for National Nurses' Day

    n 1892, after a 20 year fight to have their work deemed valuable enough for recognition, the female staff of the Federal Army Medical Department during the Civil War were invited to apply for a pension under the Army Nurses Pensioning Act of 1892.
    From the application process, we gain many of the statistics of wartime service that prove invaluable to the historians and history enthusiasts.

    On National Nurses' Day, May 6, 2015, we share a few.

    The Carded Service Records of Union hospital attendants, compiled in 1890 by the U.S. Record and Pension Division as Congress debated granting pensions to nurses, list the names of 21,208 women. These records include only Union women who received pay and not the hundreds who donated service gratis. The names of Confederate workers do not appear; nor do the names of women employed in Northern or Southern regiments, in the European tradition, to wash and cook. {In the Revised Regulations of the US Army 1861, each company is entitled to 4, wives of NCOs have preference, and they are termed "matrons", though their primary duties are laundry.}

    Among the 21,208 women named in the Carded Service Records, 6,284 are listed as nurses, 10,870 as matrons, 1,1011 as cooks, and 2,189 as laundresses; the remainder are labeled as "seamstress", "dining room girl", "chambermaid", or undesignated.

    Five hundred eighty-two of the workers are listed as "Dix appointees"...371 or 6% of the 6,284 nurses, 195 or less than 2% of the 10,870 matrons, 4 or less than 1% of the 1,011 cooks, and 4 or an even tinier percentage of the 2,189 laundresses. She put only white women to work-...
    Dorthea Dix was appointed to supervise the appointment of female attendants. By October of 1863, Surgeon General Hammond authorized all US Surgeons to appoint female attendants, undermining Miss Dix's authority. In reality, few surgeons or sanitary commissioners ever acknowledged Dix's authority and her power was ineffectual from the first year.

    Two hundred sixty {260} women are listed in the records as "Sisters of Charity."

    Black women numbered 2,096 or roughly 10% of the total number of workers listed in the records- a percentage consonant with that of African American soldiers in the Union ranks.
    Breakdowns for job classification and race:
    420 or 6% of nurses, 793 or 7% of matrons, 363 or 36% (more than 1/3 of) cooks, and 309 or 14% of laundresses. Clearly black women were given the work of cooking and washing out of proportion to their number in the records, whereas higher prestige jobs (nurse, matron) were reserved primarily for whites.

    We have martial status information on 2335 women, 516 (22%) were single. With the Sisters of Charity added to that amount, it comes to 41%. Whether the remaining 3/5 married women had husbands alive or deceased was not notated.

    From: Women at the Front: Hospital Work in Civil War America by Jane E. Shultz, 2004
    -Elaine "Ivy Wolf" Kessinger