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Women in Military Conflicts - Doctors, Nurses and others

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Women in Military Conflicts - Doctors, Nurses and others

The object of this project is to assemble profiles of women who played a roll in Military conflicts - mainly Doctors and Nurses - who were involved in wars up to and including World War II.

Early records indicate that nursing was originally conducted by monks and nuns of various religious orders. It was considered to be work of a spiritual nature as well as a physical one. Monks and other religious/military orders accompanied the soldiers of the crusades to the holy land.

During The Crusades (1090 AD) a military order was established that was known as the Knights Hospitaller. They provided care for sick, injured and poor pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem. This is probably the first know instance of military nursing as the order was considered to be a military order of the church. They provided care for sick, injured and poor pilgrims who traveled to Jerusalem. This is probably the first know instance of military nursing as the order was considered to be a military order of the church.

Over time the profession of nursing evolved and became the province of "drunks, harlots and other women of ill repute". This was the state of nursing during the mid 1800's. Several significant changes occurred during this time and nursing evolved into a well respected profession. All of this would not have come to pass if it were not for the efforts of many nurses who took up the torch and carried it.

During the American Revolution (1775-1783) women served on the battlefield as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and saboteurs.

War of 1812: Mary Marshall and Mary Allen nursed aboard Commodore Stephen Decatur's ship United States.

Mexican War (1846-1848): Elizabeth Newcom enlisted in Company D of the Missouri Volunteer Infantry as Bill Newcom. She marched 600 miles from Missouri to winter camp at Pueblo, Colorado, before she is discovered to be a woman and discharged.

By 1854 the Crimean War had started and Sidney Herbert to lead the women in tending the wounds of the injured soldiers. Appalled by the lack of fresh air, proper food and sanitation she became a driving force behind modernizing nursing and military nursing in particular. What made her particularly effective was that she was well educated, dedicated and she was able to convey her message to the political establishment of Great Britain. The second UK military hospital The Royal Herbert was named after Sidney Herbert.

Florence Nightingale also influenced American Nursing. Many of her concepts and nursing methods were used by nurses who volunteered for both the Union and the Confederate forces during the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865). Women provided casualty care and nursing to Union and Confederate troops at field hospitals and on the Union Hospital Ship Red Rover. Women soldiers on both sides disguised themselves as men in order to serve. In 1866, Dr. Mary Walker received the Medal of Honor. She is the only woman to receive the nation's highest military honor. Over 5000 nurses served in the U.S. Civil War.

Dorothea Dix rose to prominence championing the humane treatment of the mentally ill. 1840-54. She later went on to become the first Superintendent of Union Army Nurses. She often clashed with the medical department over the treatment of soldiers and patients. One of the hallmarks of her tenure was her insistence that wounded soldiers from both sides of the conflict be treated with the same compassion, dignity and nursing care.

In 1866 provision was made for the appointment of nurses to all British Military General Hospitals, but it was not until 1881 that an Army Nursing service was formed. Meanwhile, several sisters of the Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps were sent to the First Boer War (often called Zulu War) from 1879 to 1881, later to the Egyptian Campaign in 1882 and the Sudan War of 1883 to 1884. During the Sudan War members of the Army Nursing Service nursed in hospital ships on the Nile as well as the Citadel in Cairo. It is thought that the first white women to go up the Nile were army nurses (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).

During the British colonial rule in India the India Office paid more attention to the medical and nursing needs of soldiers. Miss Ada Hind who had experience as a Sister in Charge at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Suez, Egypt was asked to form the Indian Army Nursing Service but declined because of her own ill health. Instead two nursing sisters Miss Loch and Miss Oxley were chosen by the India Office to supervise and train nurses in the military hospitals in India and to work with the men of the Army Hospital Corps (cited in the book Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (Famous Regts. S) by Juliet Piggott).

Miss Loch and Miss Oxley became Nursing Superintendents, or more correctly their title being Lady Superintendent, and took eight nursing sisters from Britain to India in 1888 to form the Indian Army Nursing Service (IANS).

By 1883 every British military hospital of 100 beds or more had a staff of Sisters. In 1897 Princess Christian's Army Nursing Service Reserve was formed. In the South African War, 1899, 80 of the 1,400 nurses sent were supplied by Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Clara Barton is significant in military nursing history because of her efforts during and after the U.S. Civil war to find missing Union soldiers. In 1881 she formed the American Red Cross and served as the president of that organization until 1904. The American Red Cross began its primary mission as a disaster relief society. At the onset of the Spanish-American War the focus became refugee, disaster and seeing to the humane treatment of prisoners of war (POW's).

The Spanish-American War (1898) Thousands of US soldiers sick with typhoid, malaria and yellow fever, overwhelmed the capabilities of the Army Medical Department. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee suggested to the Army Surgeon General that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) be appointed to select professionally qualified nurses to serve under contract to the US Army. Before the war ended, 1,500 civilian contract nurses were assigned to Army hospitals in the US, Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, as well as to the Hospital Ship Relief. Twenty nurses died. The Army appointed Dr. McGee Acting Assistant Surgeon General, making her the first woman ever to hold the position. The Army was impressed by the performance of its contract nurses and asked Dr. McGee to write legislation creating a permanent corps of nurses.

During the second Boer War, the Anglo-Boer War of 1899 to 1902 the British Army Nursing Service was mobilised to tend the wounded in tented field hospitals in areas like Chiveley, Frere, Natal, Pietermaritzburg and Wynburg. As this second Zulu War progressed local buildings were commandeered and converted into hospitals such as No 3 general Hospital at Kroonstad. Sisters of the Army Nursing Service also nursed aboard troop ambulance trains and hospital ships.

Conditions were harsh for the nurses and 23 Army Nursing Sisters died from diseases despite their hard work at maintaining hygiene and order. Women in the War Zone: Hospital Service in the First World War by Anne Powell cites that almost 2000 trained nurses served in the war.

The Army Nurse Corps was officially formed in 1901. The early commissions were not considered part of the regular army and nurses were awarded "equivalent rank" in the nurse corps. This led to much confusion about the authority of the nurses to instruct and give orders to other medical personnel especially corpsmen (medics) who worked closely with the nurses.

The U.S. Navy formed the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908.

World War I (1914-1918) saw increased use of women in the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. The ranks were still not considered to be "in the chain of command". By the end of WWI it is estimated that over 30,000 women had served in the military. Many of them as nurses. During the course of the war, 21,480 American Army nurses served in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses serve stateside caring for German prisoners of war (POWs) and African-American soldiers. More than 1,476 U.S Navy nurses served in military hospitals stateside and overseas. More than 400 American military nurses died in the line of duty during World War I. The vast majority of these women died from a highly contagious form of influenza known as the "Spanish Flu," which swept through crowded military camps and hospitals and ports of embarkation.

Further Reading

World War II (1940-1945) saw nurses serving in over 6 major theatres and all around the world. By this time nurses were starting to be accorded rank in accordance with the same (or nearly the same) standards as those for male applicants to the officer corps. The Army Nurse Corps (ANC) had fewer than 1000 nurses at the beginning of WWII. By the end of WWII the ANC had over 59,000 nurses in the corps.

More than 60,000 American Army nurses served stateside and overseas during World War II. Sixty-seven Army nurses were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 and were held as POWs for over two and a half years. The Army established the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which was converted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943. More than 14,000 American Navy nurses served stateside, overseas on hospital ships and as flight nurses during the war. Five Navy nurses were captured by the Japanese on the island of Guam and held as POWs for five months before being exchanged. A second group of eleven Navy nurses were captured in the Philippines and held for 37 months.

Further Reading

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To join the project use the drop down menu at the top left of the screen and click Join the Project. If this option is not available to you then contact a collaborator and ask to be added to the project. As a collaborator you will be able to edit this page.

  • Please add the relevant profiles of women Doctors and Nurses (not their entire descendants - only those who tended the soldiers in a war). This is easily done from the profile page using the Add to project link. Only profile profiles can be added to projects.
  • If you have interesting stories or anecdotes about someone who was a wartime Doctor or Nurse please add him to the relevant section below with a brief description, adding full details to the "About" section on the profile.
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Women Doctors, Nurses and others who served in Military Conflicts














  • Josephine Mazurkewicz (1784–1896) was the last female veteran. She was an assistant surgeon in Napoleon's army and later participated in the Crimean War.