Boston on the Fourth of July is a pretty big deal. We have the parades and fireworks like everywhere else, but there is also something kind of special that happens every year…..
The Declaration of Independence is read aloud in front of the state house in Boston every fourth of July. It was first read here on the state house balcony on July 18th, 1776. Pretty cool I think. I was not even aware of this event until recently and decided to go. I myself, and I think many of us probably hadn’t read this since being forced to in grade school when the meaning and the words were probably lost on us. I know that I was quite distracted around the time this was taught to me by a young man named Bobby Arnold. I’m quite certain that I was not paying attention to Jefferson’s words as I was too busy doodling Dianne loves Bobby Arnold on my note books trying to see how my name looked with his because of course, we would get married one day. Dianne Arnold 4-eva
Sometimes I wish that I paid a bit more attention then. Especially as the whole Dianne Arnold thing didn’t work out.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Today after listening to the reading of this profound document, and fully being present in its importance and meaning, I was absolutely in awe. I must admit in these troubled times; sometimes I am not entirely proud to be an American. But I know that I am lucky to be one. We all are.
I boarded the train for my 30-minute journey back home from this morning’s event and sat lost in thought for a bit. I was still feeling prideful and of course lucky to be from this great country. I then began to feel a bit regretful that I had spent so much wasteful time during my youth in a Drakar Noir, Bobby Arnold encapsulated bubble. I kind of wished now that I paid a bit more attention. But that’s what I do…just when I’m feeling good about something I must counter act it with a feeling of guilt and shame (Note to self: talk to therapist about this).
Anyway, I knew that I needed to complete my blog post today and now thinking about the revolutionary war, I then wondered; what were nurse’s roles during this time if any? Who were they? Years ago, I became extremely interested in all things relating to the civil war after reading Gone with the Wind, which sparked a slight obsession. I remembered reading about women performing as nurses then and assisting in among many things, amputations. I recall this vividly as the book painted quite a horrific picture. Horrifically, many of the patients were amputated without anesthesia. This was a scene depicted quite memorably in Gone with the Wind, the movie. Unfortunately, there is not a huge amount said regarding nurses and their vital role in these events that went on to change the course of our history. I always am slightly infuriated by this. Women, in general, get a bum rap I think in the texts of history books and that is unfortunate. So many of these women were vital to the very outcomes of these wars and to history itself. After arriving home and before packing up for the fireworks, I settled on to the couch with my iced coffee, opened my computer and decided to see what I could find out.
After the army was created in 1775 to fight in the revolutionary war, Commander George Washington was made aware that the wounded and sick required good female nurses, as the wounded soldiers suffered greatly. During the war, many women followed the army and were seeking safety, shelter, food, and work. Many soldiers were upset about this as they thought the women being there was a distraction to the men. But, if women were not permitted in military camps, the army stood to lose many good soldiers. Men with families in need asked for furloughs or deserted to provide for their now destitute loved ones. Washington could not afford to just feed and shelter a bunch of hangers on so women had to earn their rations. Many of the women cooked and did laundry but also another way for women to earn money and rations with the Continental army was through nursing. Nurses were paid two dollars per month as a salary. In 1776, Congress raised nurses’ pay to four dollars per month, and in 1777, to eight dollars per month, possibly to entice more women into nursing or to retain nurses dissatisfied with their jobs. Despite Congressional efforts to increase the number of female nurses for the army, there remained a shortage throughout the war. Regiments constantly sought women to nurse their sick and wounded. Although a woman serving as a nurse could hope to receive regular pay and retain a job throughout the war, the job brought with it hazards. Exposure to deadly diseases such as smallpox and all manner of camp fevers; in addition to being relegated to the dirtiest jobs connected to the medical profession. Officers therefore alternately bribed and threatened women to take up nursing. They promised full rations and an allowance for volunteer nurses or threatened to withhold rations from women who refused to volunteer.
This job sometimes even included sacrificing their food to give to the sick or wounded, making themselves starve. The conditions for nurses were just as if not more horrible than the soldiers. The camps had hardly any sanitary devices. Soldiers sometimes didn’t even bother to wash their hands before eating their meal. As you can imagine, this caused a mass outbreak of disease and foodborne illnesses hindering many from being able to fight. Having no source of protection and being in jeopardy of getting captured along with giving up their own luxuries for the sick or wounded are some of the sacrifices that they had to endure. Most people thank George Washington or the soldiers for the victory of the Revolutionary War, but the nurses were a key component for victory. The Revolutionary War victory was a collaborative effort by men and women, especially the female medics that served.
Elizabeth Hutchinson Jackson was a nurse in the Revolutionary War. She gave her life to helping the sick and wounded under extremely harsh conditions. How harsh? Imagine taking care of at least 50 soldiers of the Continental Army aboard a British prison ship. The conditions on the ship were extremely unsanitary with coughing, sneezing, and puking going on left and right. No running water available and no air conditioning. The devotion to her country and to the future of it was clearly displayed here. She eventually fell under the grasp of cholera while nursing and tending to Continental soldiers. She gave her life to her country and the hope that they might have independence someday.
Amazing women. Amazing country. Happy fourth!