The Civil War, the First World War, and the Second World War were important historical events that transformed perceptions regarding the role of women in society. These wars highlighted the importance of a woman as a caregiver in the family and the need to employ this aspect in the war affairs. Despite the prevalence of negative opinions regarding the performance of female nurses during the three above-mentioned wars, their contribution changed the course of the world history. These events served as a platform upon which women exhibited exceptional performance while maintaining the image of a mother.
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During the Civil War, American women played the crucial role in nursing wounded soldiers. Since there were no professionally trained nurses, women depended on their experience in caring for sick family members; this duty was largely a feminine role. Both the Union and the Confederate armies were unprepared for the high increase in the number of injured soldiers. Women responded to the problems of poor nursing care in military camps by volunteering as caregivers on the battlefields and in hospitals (Frank, 2008). Nevertheless, the Union Army doctors exhibited bias towards the female volunteer nurses, complaining about their lack of experience. This issue did not discourage the volunteer women from becoming proficient in nursing skills. Towards the end of the war, the untrained volunteer nurses made significant contributions to the army affairs, so that military physicians and soldiers begun to acknowledge their role in the war. This aspect led to the appointment of Dorothea Dix as the superintendent nurse. Her role entailed the evaluation of women who wished to serve as nurses. A minimum age of thirty-five years was among the most important standards. The women recruited as nurses worked in shifts of 12 hours in order to serve the rising number of casualties (Harper, 2004). Nevertheless, the restrictions in Dix’s standards of appointing nurses hindered most women from serving as nurses during the war. The determination by most women to help in the war led them to ignore Dix’s standards and work without official appointments. The continuous interactions between the volunteer nurses and army physicians created an environment in which the volunteers could learn various aspects of professional healthcare. With time, army physicians became more tolerant to the volunteers and allowed them to perform duties that were previously restricted to the army doctors. Thus, the volunteer nurses begun to assume responsibilities in the professional aspect of healthcare and could make independent decisions without consulting the army doctors.
The First World War witnessed the participation of Australian women in military matters abroad. A large number of Australian nurses traveled overseas to serve as caregivers to wounded soldiers. At the time, the Australian government largely opposed the direct participation of women in the war. There was a popular opinion that women could not survive in harsh environments; thus, nursing was the only feminine role that the government could allow women to undertake during the war (Damousi, & Lake, 1995). Even in this regard, female doctors faced restrictions concerning their participation in medical services out of the country. There were views that they could not cope with the physical strain and morbid landscape in foreign countries. The nurses recruited into the war were from the Nursing Service, which largely comprised of civilian volunteer nurses. There were certain standards related to the recruitment of women into the Australian army as nurses; for example, only single or widowed women could be qualified to serve as army nurses. The minimum enlistment age was 25 years. The resolve by some women to participate in medical service during the war led to the use of nonconventional means and ways to serve in the army. Female nurses had demonstrated exceptional skills in coping with the severe war environment and influenced the way people viewed women in Australia. The establishment of the Australian Army Nursing Service did not manage to eliminate negative perceptions relating to the military nurses. Such views emanated from the Director of Medical Services who believed that the main role of female nurses was to boost the morale of soldiers rather than save lives. After the end of the First World War, the British Monarch recognized the contribution of female nurses through the Royal Red Cross decorations. Among other awards was the Florence Nightingale Medal for nurses who exhibited exceptional caregiving skills during the war (Enloe, 2000). Nurses played the role of mothers to their patients who needed comforting and emotional support.
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The Second World War incorporated a significant percentage of Canadian women who served as nursing sisters. The Canadian Nursing Sisters cared for the sick and wounded soldiers at home and overseas. Changing perceptions of women promoted the commissioning of the Canadian nursing sisters as military officers with respected titles (Toman, 2007). The fact that these women got an office status highlights the changing roles of females. Nevertheless, there were those who felt that the place of a woman was at home, and they continued to exhibit bias. The unequal pay for men and women with similar ranks in the military highlights the challenges faced by women during the Second World War. There still were traditional opinions concerning the role of a woman in the society.
The participation of women in the Civil War, the First World War, and the Second World War played a crucial role in changing the way societies viewed women. Women’s sacrifices in the three wars influenced the rights previously denied to women. It eliminated barriers introduced through notions concerning the physical and psychological capability of women. The three wars had highlighted aspects concerning commonly held notions about women in different societies.