Recruiting Nurses for the Civil War and Dorothea Dix

The American Civil War lasted from 1861 to 1865. Like many wars, it was expected to be short. Sadly it was not. Dorothea Dix was charged with recruitinDorothea DIxg nurses when she was well into a career in which she had made incredible advances for people in mental hospitals and prisons. She began her crusade in 1841 and had established hospital in the United States and worked internationally with Queen Victoria and the Pope. She was amazing. But she was not ready for a full scale crusade to establish an Army nursing core when the war began. As a non-nurse, volunteer and patriot she took the job.

She clashed with many emerging leaders, among them Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who was a big supporter of early nursing education. I am sure a strong personality had to be part of her inherent personality to take on the entire bureaucracy of the mental health system as she had the 20 years before. Like Nightingale and many other nurse reformers she had strong ideas. Somewhere out of place at the end of her career. Take a look at this want ad.
The text of the want ad for nurses says:
   No candidate for service in the Women’s Department for nursing in military hospitals of the United States, will be received below the age of thirty-five years, (35) nor above fifty.

 Only women of strong health, not subjects of chronic disease, nor liable to sudden illnesses, need apply. The duties of the station make large and continued demands on strength.

Matronly persons of experience, good conduct, or superior education and serious disposition, will always have preferences: habits of neatness, order, sobriety, and industry, are prerequisites.

Dorothea Dix
“Circular 8”

All applicants must present certificates of trust, testifying to morality, integrity, seriousness, and capacity for the care of the sick.

Obedience to rules of service, and conformity to special regulations, will be required and enforced.

 Compensation, as regulated by act of Congress, forty cents a day and subsistence. Transportation furnished to and from the place of service. (added) When over military routes.

   Amount of luggage limited within a small compass. Dress plain-colors, brown, gray, or black and, while connected with service, without ornaments of any sort.

   No applicants accepted for less than six (3 crossed out) months’ service: those for longer periods always given prefernence.

D. L. Dix

If I can paraphrase thus want ad: Only the relatively old, mostly not pretty, unfashionable work alcholics with no life of your own can apply and stay as long as you can stand it.

I started this blog to add some nursing context to the new PBS series Mercy Street #MercyStreetPBS. The first episode opens with a short exchange between Miss Dix and Mary Phinney the nurse from the North. Dix notes that Phinney is dressed in black, viewers’s comments seemed to indicate she was objecting, however, she was actually happy as this type of dress and her assumption that Mrs. Phinney would not be a socially active during off hours as a result of being a grieving widow made her a suitable candidate for the job.

In future blog posts I’ll be talking about the connection between Nightingale’s lasting impression on the world, other contemporary reactions to nurses who saw this want ad and responded to it (very funny what they objected to- not what you think) and many other important issues dear to nurses.

We are ready for episode 2 which is out now online.

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