U.S. Navy Nurses Prior to 1908



Nursing, in the sense of bedside attendance of the sick and injured, has existed in the Navy from the first. Performed by enlisted crew members, the function was increasingly formalized during the 19th Century as part of the duties of the emerging hospital corpsman rates.

Even in the early 1800s, there was a recommendation that women be employed as Navy nurses. Nothing much came of this until the American Civil War, when Catholic Sisters of the Holy Cross served in Navy facilities and on board the pioneer hospital ship USS Red Rover in the Mississippi River area. This was part of a great endeavor by Religious and lay women during the conflict, an undertaking that led to the post-war establishment of nursing as a real profession requiring formal training -- a profession both open to and dominated by women.

During the 1898 Spanish-American War, the Navy employed a modest number of female contract nurses in its hospitals ashore and sent trained male nurses to sea on the hospital ship Solace. At the same time, the U.S. Army put women nurses on board ship, in its hospital ship Relief, and in 1901 obtained Congressional approval to establish the U.S. Army Nurse Corp (Female).

In 1902 the Navy's Surgeon-General proposed a similar arrangement for the sea service. Five years later, he reported to the Congress that "The Government supplies physicians and surgeons, splendidly equipped hospitals, and complete emergency facilities on every ship. The most serious omission in this excellent establishment is the want of that skilled nursing which civil institutions enjoy".

This page features views related to nurses and the United States Navy up to the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908.

Additional images U.S. Navy Nurses - Overview and Special Image Selection.

Click photograph for a larger image.

Photo #: NH 59652

USS Red Rover (1862-1865)


Line engravings published in "Harper's Weekly", January-June 1863, page 300, depicting scene on board the U.S. Navy's Western Rivers hospital ship during the Civil War.
The scene at left, entitled "The Sister", shows a nurse attending to a patient.
That at right shows a convalescent ward.
The middle view is of a lonely grave on the river bank.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 118KB; 740 x 375

 
Photo #: NH 59651

USS Red Rover (1862-1865)


Line engraving after a drawing by Theodore R. Davis, published in "Harper's Weekly", January-June 1863, page 300, depicting a scene in the ward.
Red Rover served as the U.S. Navy's hospital ship on the Western Rivers during the Civil War.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 183KB; 740 x 545

 
Photo #: NH 58897

"The Interior of a Sanitary Steamer"


Line engraving published in "Harper's Weekly", 1862.
This may represent a view in one of the wards of USS Red Rover (1862-1865), which served as the U.S. Navy's hospital ship on the Western Rivers during the Civil War.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 147KB; 740 x 410

 
Photo #: NH 85812

Mother Angela Gillespie


Founder of the Holy Cross Nursing Sisters.
She was supervisor of the eighty Holy Cross Sisters who served as military nurses during the Civil War.

Courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, 1965.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 73KB; 555 x 765

 
Photo #: NH 85813

U.S. General Hospital, Mound City, Illinois


Main building of the hospital, a converted warehouse, while Dr. Horace Warnder was Surgeon in Charge during the Civil War, as sketched by William Groth.
This hospital was staffed by the Nursing Sisters of the Holy Cross, St. Mary's Convent, South Bend, Indiana. It also served as staffing base for the Navy hospital ship USS Red Rover.
In 1963, this building was a warehouse of the Cairo River & Rail Co.

Courtesy of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, 1965.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 103KB; 740 x 550

 
Photo #: NH 92846

U.S. Army Hospital Ship Relief


Nurses of the ship's complement, while she was serving in Cuban waters, 1898.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 108KB; 740 x 625

 


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions





About Us | Privacy Policy | Webmaster | FOIA request | Navy.mil | This is a US Navy website