Walt Whitman: Civil War nurse
Review TypeAbstract Review Only: Reviewed by Event Host
Repository Posting Date2020-02-11T15:43:57Z
Author(s)LaRocco, Susan A.
Author DetailsDr. Susan LaRocco is Dean and Professor of the School of Nursing at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh NY. She became a nursing educator after many years in a variety of leadership positions in hospitals in Boston, New York, and Connecticut. She has published extensively, including in the American Journal of Nursing, Journal of Clinical Nursing, and Nursing Management. In 2014, she was inducted as a Fellow in the National Academies of Practice. Dr LaRocco spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar in the Middle East, teaching doctoral students at the University of Jordan in Amman. Her major research interest is men in nursing, in particular the graduates of the Alexian Brothers Hospital School of Nursing in Chicago, the last all-male school of nursing.
Lead Author AffliationMount Saint Mary College, Newburgh, New York, USA
Level of EvidenceN/A
KeywordsNursing History; Civil War Nursing; Male Nurses; Untrained Nurses; Walt Whitman; Poetry About Nursing
Walt Whitman’s life as a nurse during the Civil War is largely ignored in the nursing literature. His service to wounded and dying soldiers, as well as his poetry about the horrors of war, deserves recognition.
The Civil War (1861-1865) resulted in more than 600,000 casualties. Many of these men died a horrible death, lacking the basics such as clean dressings, adequate food and even minimal pain relief. Thousands more were wounded and survived, in part because of the care provided by recovering soldiers and the untrained volunteer nurses. Walt Whitman was one of these nurses.
In early 1863 Whitman was appointed to the U.S. Christian Commission, a voluntary organization that focused on physical and spiritual service to the wounded. Employed at this time as a part time clerk in the Army’s Paymaster Office, he used his free time to care for wounded men in the tent hospitals springing up throughout Washington, DC. In addition to physical care, he demonstrates his concern for the psychosocial wellbeing of his patients by writing letters home and listening to the frightened young men. These experiences are shared in his letters, his notebooks and his poetry, in a section of Leaves of Grass (1865) entitled Drum Taps. Whitman’s understanding of nursing presence is evidenced by his comment “I found it was the simple matter of personal presence, and emanating ordinary good cheer and magnetism, that I succeeded…more than by medical nursing, or delicacies, or gifts of money, or anything else.” However, “The Dresser” describes in detail the physical care that he administered.
Bearing the bandages, water and sponge, Straight and swift to my wounded I go…
From the stump of the arm, the amputated hand, I undo the clotted lint, remove the slough, wash off the matter and blood…
Conference NameAmerican Association for Men in Nursing Annual Conference
Conference HostAmerican Association for Men in Nursing
Conference LocationPortland, Oregon, USA
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