Thesis: Nursing &amp Women's Roles Pre-And-Post

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[. . .] Thomas Branagan wrote in The Excellency of the Female Character Vindicated that men would "sin and sin again" because they could not help themselves (quoted by Welter, 47). But a woman, Branagan asserted, was "stronger and purer" and had the resolve to resist a man's desire to "…take liberties incompatible with her delicacy" (Welter, 47).

However, if a woman should acquiesce to a man's attempts to engage in sexual activities, Branagan asserted in his book, "You will be left in silent sadness to bewail your credulity, imbecility, duplicity, and premature prostitution" (Welter, 47). The advice given to women in the early 19th century, as presented by Welter on page 62, clearly appears to the 21st century reader as propaganda designed to keep women in subservient situations vis-a-vis their future husbands.

To wit, pastor Samuel Miller's sermon on women listed the duties females are obliged to perform for the husband: a) be a "counselor and friend" to the husband; b) "lighten his cares" on a daily basis; c) "soothe his sorrows"; d) "augment his joys"; e) watch over "his interests" like a "guardian angel"; f) warn him "against danger"; g) comfort him when there are "trials" in his life; and h) "…by her pious, assiduous and attractive deportment, constantly endeavor to render him a more virtuous, more useful, more honorable and more happy" individual (Welter, 62).

The Woman's role in the American Family in the 19th century

Author Carl Degler points out that after the Civil War, for most women their tasks were still domestic. "The primary role of the wife was the care of children and the maintenance of the home" (Degler, 1980, p. 8). The woman did in fact enjoy a greater degree of "influence and autonomy within the family" than the woman of the house did in the 17th century. Still, her role was homemaker albeit she was perceived by society "and [by] herself" as the "moral superior of the husband" (Degler, 8). Those women who were offered opportunities outside the home -- to be detailed later in this paper -- either had special nurses training or were widowed by the bloody war, which took the lives of more than 600,000 people.

Degler presents an example of how a woman really needed permission from her husband to go to work outside the house. Charlena Anderson needed the approval of her husband to leave their home and take a job while he was studying in Germany (Degler, 386). He wrote back that it would be "grand" for her to get a position in a "Normal School" to teach German to English-speaking students. But he added, it would be okay "…even if you did not earn much the first year"; he added that his main worry about his wife leaving the house to work related to the fact that work outside the home "…might impair her health" (Degler, 386).

She replied that it would only be a temporary position, hence he needn't worry that she would want to do this on an ongoing basis; but she mentioned that earning money to help him pay for his expenses while he was studying surely is a good thing. "You need not feel that you are a burden to all of us [by which she meant her parents, for she had no children…] & #8230; We had as soon loan our money to you as to anyone" (Degler, 386).

As an addendum to her note, she mentioned that "…I know I shall get mine again with good interest, won't I? You may say I have loaned you nothing, very true" (Degler, 386). It's not possible to tell if Charlena was making a little in-house joke when she said she had no fear of being paid back, but it could be construed that she was hoping for -- planning for -- some romance when he returned from Germany, which would serve as "good interest" for his wife. In any event, when he returned to the United States Charlena gave up her job and came home.

Degler (388) points to an incident that quite thoroughly explains and portrays the ongoing chauvinistic attitude among the male population just prior to the Civil War. In 1854, writer / editor / publisher Horace Greeley had been hiring women as typesetters in his printing office. But the Typographical Union "attacked him" for hiring women in what had traditionally been a man's job. Greely's rebuttal to those union attacks is a mix of chauvinism and humor.

"Marry them," he wrote, "provide good homes, and earn means of living comfortably, and we'll warrant them never to annoy you thereafter by insisting on spending their days at the printing office setting type" (Degler, 388). As for women who wished for independence from their parents, marriage was "an escape" from the controlling parents. But as Degler points on page 388, the husband might well turn out to be "as great a tyrant as a father" albeit the husband-tyrant was chosen by the woman and the parents she was stuck with through no choosing of her own.

Pulitzer-Prize winner James M. McPherson's book, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, goes into great detail about all the conditions in the South and the North that led to war, but he also discusses wages, trades, and how women were treated who were able to work outside the home in the private sector in the 1840s (most women were expected to stay home and do domestic chores).

The wages of male artisans had been quite high in the mid-1800s, but they plunged in certain occupations due to the "…introduction of new methods or new machines" that could do the work more efficiently and for less money (McPherson, 2003, p. 22). So instead of having to pay artisans what then was considered decent wages, employers hired "green hands" (also called "slop workers") -- usually women and sometimes children too -- perform "separate parts of a sequential process previously done entirely by skilled hands" (McPherson, 22). These tasks were performed in the genres of shoemakers, weavers, tailors, printers and cabinetmakers, McPherson explains (23).

Workers in that pre-war era that were "…at the bottom of the scale, especially women, children and recent immigrants, labored long hours in sweatshops or airless factories for a pittance"; the only way they could actually earn a livable wage was it "…other members of their families also worked" (McPherson, 23).

The African-American / Black Nurse at the Time of the Civil War

Nursing during the Civil War helped to provide a positive image for many Northern women -- including Black women. Indeed, there were a number of self-trained African-American / Black nurses during the time of the Civil War, prior to the existence of nursing schools that would admit Blacks. In author Althea T. Davis' book, Early Black American Leaders in Nursing: Architects for Integration and Equality, Davis mentions Susi King Taylor who was born into slavery and later worked as a volunteer nurse on the Civil War battlefield for "more than four years" (19). Taylor treated sick and wounded soldiers for Company E. At the Union Army camp, and helped many soldiers learn to read and write (Davis, 1999l, p. 19).

Davis also chronicles the fact that the Black nurse had struggles in common with Caucasian nurses during the Civil War. Both nurses and Black women emerged from the middle 19th century with "…great expectations for future development" -- only to discover that they would be subservient to a "caste system" that did not expect that they had "anything above mediocrity to offer" (Davis, 1999, p. 16).

While of course Black women had the bleak legacy of slavery and ongoing racist attitudes to contend with, both Black women and nurses were victimized by "political exploitation" and by "social ostracism" which placed both in "prolonged dark periods" (Davis, 16). Additionally, both nurses and Black women "…struggled against the influences of superstition and quackery," and both survived against stacked odds and "adverse conditions" (Davis, 16).

For a Black trained nurse -- notwithstanding the fact that she was thoroughly competent and experienced -- it was not an easy profession to be part of. As a group, Black nurses were simply not recognized by the public or business organizations as professionals. Add to those biases the fact that women, per se, had a status that, compared with men in that era, was "very low," Davis explains (16). Black women, unable to gain admittance to White schools of nursing, eventually began to get opportunities to learn nursing in 1886, when nursing schools for Black women began to be built.

One school of nursing for Black women opened in Atlanta, Georgia (Spellman) in 1886; a school called Dixie launched in Virginia in 1886; in 1891 a Chicago school of nursing for Blacks began operations; and Tuskegee, a nursing school for Blacks in Alabama opened in 1892 (Davis, 16).… [END OF PREVIEW]

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