From that day until the end of my hospital work, one fact forced itself upon my attention, and this is, that with all the patriotism of the American women, during that war, and all their gush of sympathy for the soldier, a vast majority were much more willing to “kiss him for his mother” than render him any solid service, and that not one in a hundred of the women who succeeded in getting into hospitals would dress so as not to be an object of terror to men whose life depended on quiet.
Women were capable of any heroism save wearing a dress suitable for hospital work. The very, very few who laid aside their hoops, those instruments of dread and torture, generally donned bloomers, and gave offense by airs of independence.
Good women would come long distances to see dying husbands, brothers and sons, and fill the wards with alarm by their hoops. When any one was hurt by them they were very sorry, but never gave up the cause of offense, while their desire to look well, and the finery and fixings they donned to improve their appearance, was a very broad and painful burlesque. Women were seldom permitted to stay in a hospital over night, even with a dying friend, and the inhabitants were generally glad when they started for home.
It was the dress nuisance which caused nuns to have the preference in so many cases; but I could not see or hear that they ever did anything but make converts to the church and take care of clothing and jellies.
One thing is certain, i.e., that women never can do efficient and general service in hospitals until their dress is prescribed by laws inexorable as those of the Medes and Persians. Then, that dress should be entirely destitute of steel, starch, whale-bone, flounces, and ornaments of all descriptions; should rest on the shoulders, have a skirt from the waist to the ankle, and a waist which leaves room for breathing. I never could have done my hospital work but for the dress which led most people to mistake me for a nun.
In the wilderness of work I must choose, and began to select men who had been given up by the surgeons, and whom I thought might be saved by special care. Surgeon Kelly soon entered into my plan, and made his ward my headquarters. To it my special patients were brought, until there was no more room for them. That intuitive perception of the natural position of muscles, and the importance of keeping them in it, which came to me on first seeing a wound dressed, gave me such control over pain that I used to go through the wards between midnight and morning and put amputation cases to sleep at the rate of one in fifteen minutes.
In these morning walks I saw that the nurses were on duty and had substantial refreshments, saw those changes for the worse, sure to come, if they came at all, in those chill hours. Seeing them soon was important to meeting them successfully, and I succeeded in breaking up many a chill before it did serious damage, which must have proved fatal if left until the morning visit of the Surgeon. Also, in those walks I chose special cases; have more than once sat down by a man and calculated in this way: