The Civil War and Healthcare
While the Civil War was a bloody war that took more than 600,000 lives, it also helped to further things like healthcare and women’s rights. Twelve years after Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to get a medical degree in the United States, the Civil War began. Women in those days did not have the rights that women have now, but many still fought bravely for whichever side they supported. Some women, such as Dorothea Dix and Louisa May Alcott worked as nurses and saved countless lives. Others, such as Jennie Hodgers, disguised themselves as males and fought on the front lines.
Before the Civil War, women were not generally respected if they chose professions such as nurses or, even rarer, doctors. The Civil War helped change that. There was a need for doctors and nurses to help wounded troops and many of the male doctors were off fighting in the war. In this way, the Civil War helped break down gender barriers in healthcare. While today, the majority of nurses are female, that was not the case back then.
While many have heard about Dorothea Dix and her crusade for mental health reform which is impressive and shows her devotion as a reformer, not as many have heard about her life-saving work as a nurse during the Civil War. Dorothea volunteered as a nurse one week after the war began and was appointed as Superintendent of the United States Army Nurses.
Clara Barton, who founded the American Red Cross, also served as a nurse during the Civil War. She was known as “The Angel of the Battlefield” due to her life-saving work on the front lines. She later founded the American Red Cross as a way to continue helping people and received recognition for her work on and off the battlefield. She was also one of the first women to hold a government job which helped clear the way for other women later on.
While women made great strides in the Civil War, so did healthcare in general. During the Civil War, the first field hospitals were developed. This greatly shortened the amount of time for a wounded soldier to receive aid and saved countless lives. The civil war also contributed to the rise of the modern ambulance system and furthered the notion that cleanliness is important in medical care which was significant as germs weren’t well understood back then.
The Civil War was a devastating and costly war, but it also brought many advancements into healthcare that have bettered our lives today.