The American Civil War,
(1802 - 1887)
Edited by: Robert Guisepi
Thank you to
Shotgun's Home of the American Civil
War for this fine work.
noted social reformer, Dix became the Union's Superintendent
of Female Nurses during the Civil War. The soft spoken yet
autocratic crusader had spent more than 20 years working for
improved treatment of mentally ill patients and for better
prison conditions. A week after the attack on Fort Sumter,
Dix, at age 59, volunteered her services to the Union and
received the appointment in June 1861 placing her in charge
of all women nurses working in army hospitals. Serving in
that position without pay through the entire war, Dix
quickly molded her vaguely defined duties.
She convinced skeptical military officials,
unaccustomed to female nurses, that women could perform the
work acceptably, and then recruited women. Battling the
prevailing stereo types-and accepting many of the common
prejudices herself-Dix sought to ensure that her ranks not
be inundated with flighty and marriage-minded young women by
only accepting applicants who were plain looking and older
than 30. In addition, Dix authorized a dress code of modest
black or brown skirts and forbade hoops or jewelry.
Even with these strict and arbitrary requirements,
relaxed somewhat as the war persisted, a total of over 3,000
women served as Union army nurses. Called "Dragon Dix" by
some, the superintendent was stern and brusque, clashing
frequently with the military bureaucracy and occasionally
ignoring administrative details. Yet, army nursing care was
markedly improved under her leadership.
Dix looked after the welfare of both the nurses, who
labored in an often brutal environment, and the soldiers to
whom they ministered, obtaining medical supplies from
private sources when they were not forthcoming from the
government. At the war's conclusion, Dix returned to her
work on behalf of the mentally ill.