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For years before 1861, tensions in the United States were building. There was great debate between the northern portion of the country and the southern half. During this time, there were many conflicts between the north and the south, including the practice of slavery, trade practices and individual state rights. These tensions continued to rise and on April 12th 1861, soldiers from the southern United States attacked soldiers from the northern states. Although all of these soldiers were Americans, the soldiers representing the ideas of the south were referred to as "Confederate" while the ones representing the north were known as "Union". This attack on the Union soldiers led to the start of the American Civil War. The war lasted for five years with many battles fought, approximately 640,000 lives lost and many more severely injured. With so many soldiers from both the Confederate and the Union being severely wounded in battle, the need for nurses and hospitals drastically increased during this period.
Before the start of the war, health care was generally provided within homes. While the first hospital was in existence before the start of the American Civil War, most people did not feel safe visiting a hospital. Nursing jobs were also in existence before the war, although wet nurses were most prominent in the field. Wet nurses were simply used for the purpose of breastfeeding infants whose mothers could not. They were paid for their services and often lived in the home of their employer. Other women that provided caretaking services to the ill in their homes were referred to as nurses although nursing was not a highly regarded profession with specific regulations and educational requirements as it is today.
The Civil War was an important time in history for nurses. It was during this time period that nurses first were seen as professionals and gained the respect of the public. In the beginning of the war, however, the volunteers that took on these nursing jobs and cared for the wounded soldiers were not seen as respectable women. Many women of this time period luckily understood the need for nurses, proper care and the importance of first aid.
One of the most influence women of this time period was a woman by the name of Clara Barton. Clara felt a calling to help the soldiers of the war and was one of the first women to volunteer to care for injured and ill soldiers. She went above and beyond basic care taking and traveled to many battle areas with supplies for soldiers. Clara provided fresh food to ensure the health of soldiers, medical supplies, mail and transportation. She also uniquely taught uninjured soldiers how to properly care for their injured men with the resources that they had available. When the war ended, Clara made an effort to identify the many soldiers that were killed in the line of duty and remained unidentified or those that were missing. Barton and her assistants located around twenty thousand previously unidentified men during her efforts running the Office of Missing Soldiers. Shortly after locating these men, Clara Barton became the founder of the American Red Cross which specialized in providing supplies and assistance to those in need.
Although Clara Barton was a very influence person in the development of modern day nursing, there were many other brave women in the field. They fought for the development of nursing schools and respect for the profession. They fought for proper training and knowledge of procedures through reputable nursing schools and certifications to ensure that patients would be properly cared for. They understood that their line of work had the potential to be harmful for their very own health and worked hard to develop protocols to protect themselves and other nurses. They fought stereotypes of working women and through their actions and bravery, completely transformed the way that the world views nurses.
Learn more about the work of Clara Barton, other prominent Civil War nurses and modern day nursing requirements:
The Influence of Clara Barton
Civil War Nursing