Women as voluntary and professional military nurses in Great Britain, 1854-1914.
After the Crimean War, civilian initiatives were largely responsible
for introducing female nurses into military hospitals to supplement and
supervise male orderlies. The early difficulties of the new nursing
service were similar to those experienced by middle and upper-class women
reformers of civilian hospitals. The first female corps was almost
independent of military commandants and medical officers; 'lady
superintendents' made unwelcome attempts to impose the social norms and
work patterns of upper-class households. The medical officers achieved
full authority over the female nurses only in 1885. Although reluctant to
mobilise female nurses for colonial warfare, under pressure from civilian
relief agencies army medical authorities did so after 1879. Army nurses
were not prominent public figures; nevertheless, British and foreign war
nursing attracted considerable civilian interest, and for some women became
a symbol of their right to political participation and equal citizenship.
The institution in 1883 of the first national decoration for women, the
Royal Red Cross, further legitimated heroism in war as a female ambition.
The Royal British Nurses' Association's attempt to form a military nursing
reserve indicates that many trained nurses saw war service as conferring
the public status necessary to their campaign for state registration. The
manpower crisis of the Boer War 1899 - 1902 convinced officials that army
hospitals required more female personnel; the success of subsequent drives
to recruit trained nurses and voluntary first-alders as military reserve
nurses and auxiliaries on the eve of World War I owed much to interests,
enthusiasms and ambitions generated among women in the nineteenth century.
The early history of British female army nursing demonstrates the influence
of civilian expectations upon military institutions; developments at the
turn of the century suggest that it was through military nursing that
civilian women were militarised.