Until the late 1900s, when women were involved in the military it was mainly as nurses. War has given nursing its principal public face other than the Christian religious vocation. Nurses insisted that the demands of war service required national standards and a national register, and war service assisted in achieving this goal.
Religious orders such as Catholic nuns had previously been used as nurses, but after Florence Nightingale's work in the Crimean War they began to be replaced by civilian nurses. However, the idea that nurses had to maintain high standards of moral behaviour continued. Nurses did not engage with the men on a personal level, dressed demurely and behaved in a manner that required respect. In both the First and Second World Wars men were stretcher-bearers and orderlies, but the propaganda of nursing was female, an idealised picture of motherhood. Uniforms were important, as sober dressing was associated with good moral character. It was not until the Korean War that nurses wore combat fatigues.
Related Themes and Topics
Techniques and Technologies:
R Dingwall, A M Rafferty and C Webster, An Introduction to the Social History of Nursing (London: Routledge, 1998)
A Summers, Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses 1854-1914 (Berkshire: Threshold Press, 2000)
E Taylor, Frontline Nurses: British Nurses in World War II (London; Robert Hale, 1997)