What Was Life Like for Nurses in World War I?

Nurses in World War I often faced gruesome injuries, cramped living conditions and criticism from male members of the military. Nurses in World War I dressed in official uniforms provided by the American Red Cross. Despite maintaining neat, trim appearances and performing laudable work, nurses faced considerable difficulties, ranging from close and cramped living conditions to low wages and dangerous working conditions.

Most nurses in World War I enlisted enthusiastically at first, assuming a short duration of the war. Before heading off to war, nurses received training from the Queen Alexandra's Imperial Nursing Service or QAIMNS. The training service began in 1902, but employed fewer than 300 nurses. With the sudden need for more hospital help during World War I, QAIMNS programs trained thousands more young women. However, not all women received sufficient training. A small portion of nurses qualified as professionals, but most did not. Lower-level nurses included primarily girls from middle-class families. They entered the war with little medical training, and spent their days performing primarily domestic duties in field hospitals. There, young women carried out trivial routine tasks like changing and washing sheets, emptying bedpans, sweeping and maintaining a clean environment. Women faced opposition, even hostility, from many men in the military. Men considered women unfit for participation in war, and discouraged their involvement in the front lines.