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Nursing during World War II
Pearl Harbor, and the United States' subsequent involvement in World War II, had a lasting impact on the country, much as the events of September 11, 2001, had, and will continue to have, a lasting impact on this nation. In particular, this paper will focus on the impact that Pearl Harbor and World War II had on the nursing profession.
The events of Pearl Harbor and other events during the course of World War II played a large role in helping to change the country's perception of nurses. These dedicated women were now taken more seriously and, as a result, the environment in which nurses learned and worked changed. At the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, the United States was facing a serious shortage of nurses. President Franklin Roosevelt issued a call for more nurses, and the military, in an effort to help fulfill the country's need, responded by offering programs designed to induce women to join the military and become nurses. One of the most successful programs, although not a military program per se, was the United States Cadet Nurse Corps. From here, women often went on to join the military as nurses and served with great distinction.
World War II also ushered in changes to the technology employed in the nursing profession. New techniques were developed with regards to anesthesia and prosthetics, and patients' psychiatric health was studied more seriously and training provided in it. This was especially vital as war-ravaged veterans came back from Work War II only to face a world that, while appreciate of their efforts during the war, now had no idea what to do with them.
The country -- and the nursing profession -- also saw changes on an ethical and legal level. One of the darkest periods in this nation's history was the forced internment of several thousand Japanese-Americans. Prejudice and hysteria combined to create an atmosphere in which an entire race of people was punished in one country for the actions of those in another country. As a result, many Japanese-American women entered the nursing profession as a way to both escape the internment camps and prove their loyalty as American citizens.
This paper will examine each of these areas in turn: the economy, politics and legislation, technology and education, the environment, and the ethical and legal issues that the nursing community had to address as a result of Pearl Harbor and World War II. It will show that these events played a pivotal role in creating the nursing profession as we know it today.
Prior to World War II, the United States economy was in a poor state. The country was in the throes of the Great Depression, and thousands of people lost their jobs, their homes, and their very way of life. World War II served as a stimulus to the economy, with jobs being created in factories where people built airplanes, tanks, parachutes, ammunition, and more. However, World War II did more than just stimulate the basic economy. The war also brought about a change in the status of women. Prior to the war, women, for the most part, stayed in the home and worked strictly as homemakers and mothers. When thousands and thousands of men went overseas to fight, that meant that factories and offices were left vacant. Women stepped in to fill the jobs that these men had left behind.
The nursing profession felt the economic change in a big way. For one thing, there was a huge shortage of nurses in the country at this time, particularly in the military. At the time the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, there were only 7,000 active-duty nurses in the military. Six months later, there were 12,000 (Feller, 1997, p.13). Part of the impetus came from a feeling of nationalism and patriotic duty. The country was reeling from the horrific attack on Pearl Harbor, and many women saw the Army and Navy Nurse Corps as a place where they could serve their country and help fight against the Japanese and the Germans. For other women, however, there was more. Given the poor economic condition the United States had been in prior to World War II, there was little hope that young adults, especially women, would be allowed to pursue some form of higher education. However, the shortage of nurses meant that the United States would do almost anything necessary to fill that gap. As a result, the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps was created. Women joined the Corps and learned to become nurses for free. Provided they were willing to serve in the Corps for the duration of World War II, women could receive free education, including tuition, books, uniforms, and monthly stipends.
Nursing was not just significant to the economy. Politically and legislatively speaking, nursing was important as well. As previously mentioned, the country was facing a shortage of nurses when the United States joined World War II. The president issued a special request for women to join the military and serve in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. The Army Nurse Corps actually had been around since the time of the Revolutionary War, and the Army Nurse Corps had seen service in every military action since. It became a permanent part of the War Department in 1901 (Feller, 1997, p.7).
Like the men who served as soldiers, the women who joined the Army Nurse Corps and went overseas initially had ideas of defeating the Germans and being home again in no time. Doubtless, it came as something of a shock to the troops and nurses alike once they were in the battlefields and the trenches to see the actual brutality of war and realize that they would not be returning home anytime soon. According to Lieutenant Colonel Margaret E. Aaron, an Army Nurse Corps representative,
Mostly young and new to the Army, the women found themselves bewildered and homesick in a strange country. Wearing uniforms and work dresses ill-adapted to the cold, damp climate, and minimally heated buildings, they suffered a high rate of colds, flu, and pneumonia (Cosmas and Cowdrey, 1992, p.119).
In June 1940, there were only 942 women in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps (Roman, 2002, p.58). According to Marlene Roman, president of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses (2002), this led to the creation of the Nursing Council for National Defense. This council emphasized the need to train additional nurses. During World War II, Army and Navy nurses served in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Pacific as well as in military hospitals throughout the United States (p.58).
The ranks of women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps continued to grow, but it was not enough. The president knew that more serious measures would have to be considered. As a result, in late 1944, the Secretary of War formally recommended to the president that women nurses be drafted into service. The House of Representatives passed the act, known as HR 2277, and the Nurses Selective Service Act was signed into being on March 1945. However, as it turned out, the Nurses Selective Service Act was never implemented. Less than a month later, the Allied forces entered Berlin, capturing it, and the war in Europe ended. The War Department notified the Senate that the legislation was no longer necessary. According to Marlene Roman (2002, p.58), public opinion polls taken at the time showed 73% of Americans supported drafting female nurses, and by the summer of 1945, there were nearly 57,000 Army nurses and 11,000 Navy nurses on active duty.
Along with the president's call to action and the passing of the Nurses Selective Service Act, the creation of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps in July 1943 was designed to help remedy the critical shortage of nurses faced by the United States. According to Feller and Moore (1996, p.15), "it was deemed more expedient and economical to strengthen the instructional staff and the facilities of existing civilian schools of nursing than to reinstitute the Army School of Nursing or start similar military hospital-based schools." The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps was introduced to Congress by Frances Payne Bolton, a congresswoman from Ohio (Nursing World, 1996) and was in existence from 1943 to 1948. During its lifespan, nearly 180,000 women "enlisted" in the Cadet Corps (Morris, 2002). The Cadet Nurse Corps was not a military branch, per se, like the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. It was run by the U.S. Public Health Services Department and the women were considered civilians, although many young women went on from the Cadet Nurse Corps to join the Army or Navy Nurse Corps. There was a two-year training program that combined classes and practical service work. According to Morris (2002), "the cadets worked at homeland hospitals, filling the positions left by nurses sent overseas to serve in military hospitals. The government paid for their training and in return, the cadets promised to work wherever they were needed."
The women who chose to become nurses, whether civilian or…[continue]
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