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Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Prose Works. 1892.

I. Specimen Days

74. Female Nurses for Soldiers

THERE are many women in one position or another, among the hospitals, mostly as nurses here in Washington, and among the military stations; quite a number of them young ladies acting as volunteers. They are a help in certain ways, and deserve to be mention’d with respect. Then it remains to be distinctly said that few or no young ladies, under the irresistible conventions of society, answer the practical requirements of nurses for soldiers. Middle-aged or healthy and good condition’d elderly women, mothers of children, are always best. Many of the wounded must be handled. A hundred things which cannot be gainsay’d, must occur and must be done. The presence of a good middle-aged or elderly woman, and magnetic touch of hands, and expressive features of the mother, the silent soothing of her presence, her words, her knowledge and privileges arrived at only through having had children, are precious and final qualifications. It is a natural faculty that is required; it is not merely having a genteel young woman at a table in a ward. One of the finest nurses I met was a red-faced illiterate old Irish woman; I have seen her take the poor wasted naked boys so tenderly up in her arms. There are plenty of excellent clean old black women that would make tip-top nurses.