Acts of caring: A history of the lived experience of nurse-caring by northern women during the American Civil War

Date of Completion

January 2004


History, United States|Health Sciences, Nursing




The purposes of this research were to create and historicize a phenomenological description of the lived experience of nurse-caring by the culture of white Northern women during the American Civil War. Primary sources included: unpublished and published Civil War letters, journals, diaries, memoirs, reminiscences, narratives and records from 1861 through 1911. The phenomenological description was created using van Manen's (1990) approach for hermeneutic phenomenology and Drew's (2001) method for examining the researcher's pre-understanding of a phenomenon. The phenomenological description was historicized using Leininger's (1995) Sunrise Model as a framework. ^ Eighteen essential themes emerged from 1,256 essential statements. The themes highlighted the phenomenon of Civil War nurse-caring for the group of Northern women studied. The lived experience of Civil War nurse-caring was produced by political, economic, technical, kinship, religious, educational, and cultural factors of the dominant cultures of the Medical Department of the Union Army, The United States Sanitary Commission, and the United States Christian Commission. The women provided nurse-caring under the adverse conditions of war. The path to the bedside was obstructed by Army Regulations and conflicts between military and civilian officials. Retaining a nursing position required coping with Army Regulations which subordinated the nurses within the hospital system. Providing nurse-caring was complicated by the lack of supplies and differences in ideas about medical and nursing care between the nurses and physicians. The nurses overtly and covertly resisted the rules and regulations imposed on them by the Medical Department of the Union Army. ^ The results of this research have filled a long-standing void in the history of American Civil War nurse-caring. The research approaches of van Manen (1990), Drew (2001) and Leininger (1995), when used together, enabled the researcher to identify the essential themes and factors that produced the essential themes of Civil War nurse-caring for white Northern women. A selected review of current professional literature revealed that recurrent features of nurse-caring are shared by Civil War and contemporary nurses. ^