How the US Civil War Inspired Women to Enter Nursing

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Before the American Civil War, the majority of hospital nurses—or “stewards”—were men. But the war created a medical crisis that demanded more volunteers, and a lot of the people who took up the call were women.

Of the estimated 620,000 military deaths during the Civil War, about two-thirds were due to disease. If a bullet didn’t kill a soldier, the infection that developed from a wound might; and the infectious diseases that spread in war hospitals ravaged soldiers and medical workers alike. Amid this desperate need for medical workers, women began to volunteer as nurses for wounded soldiers. After the war, women continued to work in medicine; and by 1900, they represented 91 percent of U.S. nurses.



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