Wednesday, July 29, 2015

What-I'm-Reading-Wednesday: Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott

Originally printed in 1863 Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott recounts Alcott's service as a Union nurse in Georgetown in 1862. Published in installments for The Commonwealth newspaper, the author explains her decision to volunteer and details the hazards encountered during her journey from Concord, Massachusetts to the Union Hospital in Washington, D.C. Her portraits of fellow travelers demonstrate her keen skill observing and describing the social culture of her day.

After arriving at her duty station dubbed "Hurly-burly House" Alcott encounters the wounded from the Battle of Fredericksburg. She washes, dresses, feeds and pays vigil to a succession of soldiers during the next two months that include patients from both armies. Wards of 40 beds include both wounded and diseased. Alcott describes hospital staff, the crude medical instruments and the prevailing medicines.

She recounts her impressions of individual patients and their stories of gallant heroism and devotion to duty. She remarks about the camaraderie of men on the ward and their courtesy toward her. Before the end of her three month tour, Alcott contracts typhoid but stubbornly refuses to leave until her father arrives to escort her home.

The library's copy is available on Floor 4 in E621.A34. This edition, published by the University of California, Irvine in 2004 includes an extensive introduction by Alice Fahs, draws on documented primary sources to introduce the Alcott family, describes the historical period and elaborates on the roles adopted by women during the Civil War.

If you are inspired to learn more after reading the sketch, plan to visit the National Museum of Civil Medicine in Frederick on your next day trip.

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