My rating: 4 of 5 stars Historical Fiction
Mary Sutter is a midwife in Albany New York who dreams of becoming a surgeon. Her applications to medical colleges are ridiculed and her attempts to apprentice herself to local doctors are met with scorn. When nurses are called for at the beginning of the Civil War, she volunteers in order to learn more about medicine.
At this time Florence Nightingale had just published her account of nursing during the Crimean War. It was considered extraordinary to have trained females in the hospitals. Of course, many surgeons considered women who wanted to do this to be prostitutes as women who have wanted to do anything outside the home where so often considered. Hospitals were unsanitary at best and deadly at worst but no one understood the link between cleanliness and disease.
This book was an interesting study in what passed for medicine in the 1860s. I spent most of the book yelling, “Wash your hands!”
When the U.S. Civil War started, Dorothea Dix wanted to set up a nursing corp based on Nightingale’s. In order to not be accused of being a cover for prostitutes she required that they be between 30 and 50 and plain looking. Women who didn’t meet her requirements were not allowed in. Of course, the needs of the war overcame the number of “suitable” volunteers much to Ms. Dix’s consternation.
In this book Mary Sutter is not suitable. She was too young. She went and volunteered directly in an overwhelmed make-shift hospital in Washington D.C. She also went to the front to distribute the meager supplies that the medical staff had. She learns to do amputations out of necessity because of the huge number of wounded soldiers. She learns how to judge healing of wounds. Pus is good because all wounds heal like that. (“WASH YOUR HANDS!”)
There are some emotional story elements in here too but to me they were very secondary to the medical aspects because I’m like that. Besides, her family was just hateful so I’m ignoring them.
I’m giving this book four stars because I learned about the history of nursing in the United States which was a topic I didn’t know much about in the course of this historical fiction book.