For my Omeka site, entitled “US Nurses in World War II,” I focused on trying to encapsulate the large narrative of the thousands of American women who served as healers during the Second World War. My goal was to learn more about the topic through this project, in order to help me come up with a research question for my MA thesis. The goal for the site and my visualization project was to expand the knowledge of the general public about the unique experiences these women had when serving at home and on the front during the war, and to show people that it was not a glamorous job. I want viewers to look through it and understand the deep impact these women had on the people they treated, those observing them, and the future of women in the US military.
The main research questions I had going into these projects were; Why did these women serve? Where did they serve? What was it like to be a nurse during World War II? How did they impact women’s history? How did they impact those that they cared for, and what does that say about their importance?
Many people feel that nurses during WWII were not breaking any gender barriers, and most women’s historians seem to spend more time praising and analyzing the women who stayed at home and entered the workforce, replacing men in factories and businesses, or the women who joined the military but did not serve as nurses. From what I have read so far in my historiography on my topic (I’m still in the early stages of it all), nurses are not seen as anything special to women’s history outside of the fact that they comforted and healed so many. Apparently, we already crossed that bridge with Civil War nursing, and so nothing after that is particularly striking in terms of the development of American women.
I am still trying to formulate the exact argument I will make, and the exact research questions I have, but one main thing that I can’t ignore is that I HATE this viewpoint that nurses in WWII contributed next to nothing to the narrative of American women’s history. I am a believer in agency, and as I argued in the last thesis I wrote, in undergrad, these women knew what they were doing. They saw an opportunity, and they took it for a reason. They were offered places in the military, normally closed to women, in an unprecedented amount during this war, and they got away with it more easily than the WACs, WAVES, SARS, and other female military personnel who chose roles that were not related to medicine.
Yes, nursing was considered a “safe” field in the military for women to serve in, and yet they still became Lieutenants, Captains, and other officers, and many received similar training to the men. They often had to dress like the men, eat like them, and follow them into enemy territory with less protection than the soldiers themselves. There is more going on here than what much of the historiography suggests, and that is what interests me. I have tried to show that at least in part with my two projects.
My visualization project, “Battle Stations of American Nurses During the Second World War,” is decidedly less than I wanted it to be, and contains waayyyy too much text for the project. I struggled to come up with an idea, and when I decided on a map, I chose to use StoryMap by knightlab. I love this tool, because it is exactly what it says. Not only does it check off the goal of being a map, to show viewers the various locales these nurses had to survive and save lives in, but it also allows you to attach a picture to each map marker, text giving a brief story of a nurse or group of nurses who served there, and it travels through the map in a way that makes the distance between places clear and powerful.
This tool is pretty user friendly, though trying to input the address for Iwo Jima was problematic (beware) and some of the slides, like my slide about the United Kingdom, do not zoom in so that people can see the exact point on the map and the surrounding places. I found this frustrating, because it was not consistent, but overall it was a minor setback.
Of course, the project title is a bit cheesy, and I would appreciate any feedback from those of you who are more creative than I on a title I could give it instead. I also appreciate any aesthetic feedback and general feedback you can give me! I tried to approach the project as if I were going to have high school students look at it, or at least people at a museum who have no idea of all the varied fronts upon which nurses served during the war, so I hope I got that point across in a clear way!
My favorite part of this research overall was reading the words of these nurses and the men who worked with them. In my map I have included quotes from several different people specific to the location of each slide, when I could find a good quote. I have also been really satisfied with the wealth of images available of these women for use in my projects, and I believe that I have learned more about this topic through finding images than through any other medium of research, outside of direct quotes and accounts from nurses. The secondary literature on the subject has been disappointing so far, and using digital tools to research has gotten me much further along in my scholarship than if I had relied on books and articles completely.
These projects have really taught me to also look differently at “popular history.” Just because a book, website, or news piece has this label, it does not mean that the work is useless to research, or that it is inaccurate. You always have to be careful, but I feel upset in a way that we have all been trained throughout high school and undergrad at least, if not in some part in grad school, to avoid these sources.
The two main books that have gotten me through these projects, like it or not, are both written and compiled by former nurses and people interested in the topic, with little historical background. They made the effort that apparently many historians have not, to gather firsthand accounts from these women and compile them into a streamlined, easy-to-read format, and they were some of the few paper sources I could find that directly addressed the information I wanted. Those books are, They Called Them Angels: American Military Nurses in World War II by Kathi Jackson, and And If I Perish: Frontline US Army Nurses in World War II by Evelyn Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee.
I plan to continue my Omeka site for sure, due to the overwhelming amount of info I’ve found, and I have not decided about my other project. I think both would be useful in a classroom, which is a possible career path for me after I graduate, but they could also be useful in a museum setting, with a LOT more tweaking of course.
Omeka Site Link: https://usnursesww2.omeka.net/
SOURCES (only for my visualization project):
“48th Surgical /128th Evacuation Hospital: Unit History.” From the WW2 US Medical Research Centre Website. World War 2 United States Medical Research Centre. Accessed April 30, 2020. https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/48th-surgical-128th-evacuation-hospital/
“95th Evacuation Hospital Unit History.” From the WW2 US Medical Research Centre Website. World War 2 United States Medical Research Centre. Accessed April 27, 2020. https://www.med-dept.com/unit-histories/95th-evacuation-hospital/.
Allen, Janis. World War II Veterans of the Carolinas: Their Stories in Their Own Words. KDP, Performance, Leadership, Publications, 2019.
The Army Nurse Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service. US Army Center of Military History and CreateSpace Independent Publishing Program, December 2014. Webpage last updated October 3, 2003. Accessed April 14, 2020. https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/72-14/72-14.HTM.
“The Army Nurse Corps Association (ANCA) > History > 1940-1950.” From the Army Nurse Corps Association Website. Army Nurse Corps Association. Accessed April 14, 2020. https://e-anca.org/History/ANC-Eras/1940-1950.
Bedell-Burke, Margie. “Army Nurse Fixing Hair in Outdoor Mirror.” From Women of World War II Website. February 1, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2020: https://www.womenofwwii.com/army/army-nurses/army-nurse-fixing-hair-in-outdoor-mirror/
Burrell, Prudence Burns. “Interview with Prudence Burns Burnell Michigan Women’s Historical Center Text Transcript.” Interview by Katie Cavanaugh, Experiencing War: Stories from the Veterans History Project, Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. Audio. Accessed April 30, 2020. https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp-stories/loc.natlib.afc2001001.04747/transcript?ID=sr0001
“Chapter 3: Japanese Internment Camps Philippines 1941-1945, Prisoners of War: “You Don’t Know What Freedom is Until You Lose It.” In No Time for Fear: Voices of American Military Nurses in World War II, by Diane Burke Fessler. Michigan State University Press, 1996. 79-104.
Clark, Alexis. “The Army’s First Black Nurses Were Relegated to Caring for Nazi Prisoners of War.” From the Smithsonian Magazine Website. Smithsonian Magazine. May 15, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2020: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/armys-first-black-nurses-had-tend-to-german-prisoners-war-180969069/
“A contingent of 15 nurses….arrive in the southwest Pacific area, received their first batch of home mail at their station. 268th Station Hospital, Australia…” In US National Archives Series: Photographs of American Military Activities, ca. 1918- ca. 1981, Record Group 111: Records of the Office of the Chief Signal Officer 1860-1985. US National Archives and Records Administration, Department of Defense, Department of the Army US Army Materiel Command, US Army Pictorial Center. Accessed April 30, 2020: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/531410
“Della Hayden Raney Jackson African American Trailblazer WWII Nurse.” From the North Carolina Nursing History Database “Biographies” Webpage. Appalachian State University, . Accessed April 27, 2020. https://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/biographies/della-hayden-raney-jackson.
Graham, Stephens, MD. “Chapter XIV: India-Burma China Theaters.” In Surgery in World War II: Activities of Surgical Consultants, Volume II. Prepared and Published Under the Direction of Lt. General Leonard D. Heaton, The Surgeon General, US Army. Washington DC: Office of the Surgeon General, Department of the Army, 1964. 923.
Jackson, Kathi. They Called Them Angels: American Military Nurses of World War II. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2000.
“Japanese American Women in World War II.” Accessed April 28, 2020. http://www.javadc.org/AJA%20women_in_wwII.htm.
“Letters from Readers.” The American Journal of Nursing 44, no 3 (March 1944) Lippincott Williams & Wilkins: 288-290.
“Lt. Florie E. Gant…tends a patient at a prisoner of war hospital somewhere in England, Item 531495.” In US National Archives Series: Medical Department Activities in the European Theatre Operations 1943-1946, Record Group 112: Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) 1775-1994. US National Archives and Records Administration: War Department, office of the Surgeon General. Accessed April 30, 2020: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/531495
Managan, Dorothy. “Phone Interview about Service During WWII.” April 24, 2020.
Moore, Constance J. “Army Nurses in Dachau.” Army Nurse Corps Association. Accessed April 25, 2020. https://e-anca.org/History/Topics-in-ANC-History/Army-Nurses-in-Dachau.
Monahan, Evelyn M. and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee. And If I Perish: Frontline US Army Nurses in World War II. Alfred A. Knopf, 2003.
“Oral History List: Alice Kanagaki.” Japanese American Museum of San Jose, CA. Accessed April 25, 2020. https://www.jamsj.org/manabu/alice-kanagaki.
“Qualla Boundary (Eastern Band Cherokee Indian Nurses).” From the North Carolina Nursing History Database Website. Appalachian State University. Accessed April 14, 2020. https://nursinghistory.appstate.edu/counties/qualla-boundary-eastern-band-cherokee-nurses.
Sundin, Sarah. “Medical Air Evacuation in World War II: The Flight Nurse.” From Sarah Sundin’s Author Website. November 13, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2020: https://www.sarahsundin.com/medical-air-evacuation-in-world-war-ii-the-flight-nurse/
“U.S.–built Army trucks wind along the side of the mountain over the Ledo supply road now open from India into Burma…Item 535540” In US National Archives Series: Photographs of the Allies and Axis 1942-1945, Record Group 208: Records of the Office of War Information 1926-1951. US National Archives and Records Administration: Office for Emergency Management, Office of War Information, Overseas Operations Branch, News and Features Bureau. Accessed April 30, 2020: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/535540
“USS Shaw exploding during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor, T.H. Item 520590.” In US National Archives Series: General Photographic File of the Department of Navy 1943-1958, Record Group 80: General Records of the Department of the Navy 1804-1983. US National Archives and Records Administration: Department of Defense, Department of Navy, Naval Photographic Center. Accessed April 29, 2020: https://catalog.archives.gov/id/520590
Wahlberg, David. “Japanese-Americans Left Internment Camps in 1940s to Study Nursing in Madison, Archivist Finds.” Wisconsin State Journal and Madison Website (Madison.com). May 15, 2017. Accessed April 25, 2020. https://madison.com/news/local/health-med-fit/japanese-americans-left-internment-camps-in-1940s-to-study-nursing-in-madison-archivist-finds/article_c37bff0b-59c6-53a9-9c43-6df2eb513f53.html.
Wikimedia Commons Page: “File: Army Nurses Rescued from Santo Tomas 1945,” image courtesy of the United States Army: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Army_nurses_rescued_from_Santo_Tomas_1945g.jpg
“WW2 Military Hospitals: European Theater of Operations.” From the WW2 US Medical Research Centre Website. World War 2 United States Medical Research Centre. Accessed April 27, 2020. https://www.med-dept.com/articles/ww2-military-hospitals-european-theater-of-operations/.