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First NHDVS Nurses

Local Manager John L. Mitchell was responsible for introducing the concept of a female nursing staff not only to the Northwestern Branch, but to the entire National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers system.

Although women had served as nurses during the Civil War, the practice at the Home and, in society in general, was that men cared for strangers and women cared for the ill in the home. At the National Home, members performed nursing duties themselves. However, as the members aged and were less capable of fulfilling nursing responsibilities, the local manager contracted with the newly organized Wisconsin Training School for Female Nurses in May 1890, for the services of ten nurses. The Northwestern Branch program influenced the other branches, which began to employ female nurses as well. National Register Application

The following excerpts from the Milwaukee Sentinel chronicle Mitchell's efforts and the success of this innovation in veteran care.

March 30, 1890
John L Mitchell will leave today for Washington where he will attend the meeting of the Board of Managers. He hopes to be able to get the Training School nurses—the whole institution, in fact—set up at the Soldiers’ home.

April 9, 1890

WASHINGTON—John L. Mitchell of Milwaukee is in the city in attendance upon the meeting of the National board in charge of the soldiers’ homes of this country. Mr. Mitchell is the Wisconsin member of the board and at the meeting today he submitted the proposition of the ladies of the Wisconsin Training School for Nurses to furnish nurses for the Soldiers’ home in Milwaukee. The proposition as made is that ten nurses shall have charge of nursing the sick in the hospital. The school offered to furnish these nurses and board them near the home and ask only a small room in the hospital and a midday meal for the nurses for $125 a month, doing the entire nursing services of the hospital and stopping the use of men nurses who are selected among inmates. Gen. Knox, governor of the home, approved the plan and today the Board accepted the proposition as it was made, and Mr. Mitchell will carry it out upon his return.

April 9, 1890
Col. John Mitchell telegraphs from Washington that the soldier’s home mangers have accepted the proposition to place Nurses Training School at the home and a place will be provided for it there.

All because Nurses Training School has taken charge of Home Hospital.

Ten bright and cheerful young lady nurses are now on duty in the hospital of National home. They commenced their labors May 15, and it is a day that will be remembered by many battle0scarred and infirm veterans until their last ration is issued. The scenes and incidents that transpired during the first days of the attendance of the nurses upon the ill and infirm veterans could fill a volume.

As they moved through the wards among the 134 patients, noiselessly and gently administering to their wants, adding cheering words and pleasant smiles, all eyes followed their movements and there was rejoicing of various degrees among the patients, as their minds reverted to other days.

 “It is heavenly, yes Heaven itself,” said one, and a bevy of old fellows in one of the wards who were approaching convalescence commenced singing as best they could:

“Blessings on the head of women
Angels guard its strength and grace”
“My word for it," said Dr. McIlvaine to a reporter yesterday, "such rejoicing was never before seen in a hospital among men, many of whom realized that their race on earth was well nigh run and that the last kindly act of human hands for them would soon be performed. Really, many of the old fellows seemed to take on a new lease of life. I have been here since 1877 and I never saw any medicine administered in the hospital which had such a happy effect upon the veterans, as did the presence of those pleasant-faced, efficient and attentive young women. It is a great treat to the old boys and they appreciate it very much. In fact we are all highly pleased with the nurses, and the superintendent Miss Montrose, understands her business thoroughly."

Miss Montrose said the nurses seemed as much pleased with the situation as do the patient. “We are all quite satisfied with the hospital and the indications are that our relations will be of the most pleasant and desirable character. I find the nurses very good, indeed, better than I expected. They are attentive, studious and take a deep interest in their work. I look for them to make rapid progress and acquire a high degree of proficiency.”

In regard to the general situation, the home arrangements made, etc., Miss Montrose expressed herself as very much pleased. She said all things were in better shape than she expected to find them. She was also delighted with Milwaukee and its people. She noticed a trifle different tone and tenor to things generally from what she had been accustomed to in the east, yet there were no disagreeable futures. In fact she enjoyed the greater degree of life and energy manifested and felt quite at home in the new surroundings. She is a frank, pleasant lady who evidently thinks more than she talks, and knows her business well.

A pleasant office is assigned to her in the hospital and her time during the day is devoted to work there and the general supervision of that in the wards, her evenings being spent in the nurses; home hearing recitation of the classes and giving instructions.

In the hospital there are two nurses in each ward during the day and two on duty in the four wards at night. There are other wards in the hospital with which the nurses have nothing to do, such as the convalescent ward, insane ward, etc. Connected with each ward are several small rooms to which patients not expected to live are moved and the ward nurses are relieved of attendance upon them.
At present there is but one probationer as the students are called, in the house, but the indications are that there will be more soon. Miss Montrose is in receipt of many applications from young women whom she thinks are well qualified to become nurses. All probationers go on duty in the hospital under the instruction of the head nurse in her ward, and thus begin with practical theory. The studies of the nurses consist of material medica, anatomy, physiology and Wick’s manual of nursing. The nurses are divided into three divisions, according to the time they have been in school, and are designated as seniors, second juniors and juniors. Each class has recitation once a week. Weekly lectures by city physicians will commence soon. About the only thing lacking in the home is a more complete supply of reference books as aids to the nurses’ studies, and these will doubtless soon be supplied. Judging from all indications, the Wisconsin Training School for Nurses is well and comfortably situated.

First female nurses employed at the Northwestern Branch, 1890

June 1, 1890

Invalid inmates of the National Soldiers home at Milwaukee are participants in a luxury not found in any other institution of its kind in the country. This is the result of establishing the Wisconsin Training School for Nurses in connection with the Soldiers’ home. The nurses are in charge of four of the hospital wards which do not include the convalescence and insane wards. There are two or more nurses on duty in each ward during the day, and two are in charge of the four wards at night. The nurses have been on duty in the hospital since May 15 and the new acquisition to the Home seems to be giving remarkable satisfaction to all concerned. The ladies all express themselves as highly pleased by their positions and the sick veterans say their ministrations possess and impart a magical influence surpassing the power of medicine and make their habitation all the word “home” implies.

Miss Montrose, the superintendent of nurses’ school, expresses much pleasure with the pleasant relations that have been established, and says only the most kindly and courteous treatment is extended to the nurses by all connected with the institution. She thinks an impetus has been imparted to the training school which will result in a supply of proficient nurses in a very few years. Lest the impression should go out that the veterans are attended by unskilled nurses, it should be understood that experienced nurses are constantly in each ward during the day and the inexperienced ones—probationers just entering the school—occupy the positions of assistants until they have acquired thorough proficiency. This in a short time there will be a steady going out of the older ones and a coming into the hospital of new ones with thoroughly competent ones always at the head of the work. A Sentinel reporter spent several hours at the hospital yesterday where he listened to many compliments and praises for the nurses from the officers in charge of the invalid and maimed veterans in the hospital. Said ward master J O Morrison:

 “I wish everyone could known and comprehend what a great blessing these nurses are to the old veterans, and what a wonderful change their coming here has wrought upon this branch of the home. The change is simply indescribable. The home has always enjoyed the distinction of having the most orderly and well-conducted hospital of any institution of its kind in the country, but the change, which has taken place of late, is like the transformation of night into day. Under the old regime with veterans as nurses, there were some unavoidable unpleasant features. Some of the invalids would get irritable and give vent to profanity at times, but there is nothing of that kind now. Not an improper word is heard in any of the wards and the old fellows are as patient as saints. They call the nurses their angel visitors. I tell you God never made anything equal to a woman in a hospital. The nurses are already relieving the surgeons of much of their labor. In dressing wounds they are simply wonderful. Yesterday one of the surgeons went up to dress some wounds and apply the electric battery to some paralytics and when he returned declared that the nurses understood the work as well as he did and he could safely entrust it to them.”

Dr. McIlvaine, the assistant surgeon corroborated the ward master’s statements and said: “The occupant of this house will not cease to bless Col. John L. Mitchell and the managers of the Nurses’ Training school for getting the nurses here until they go to rest over in the cemetery.”

Gen. Averill, the national inspector of the Soldiers’ Home, who inspected last week, expressed himself as very highly pleased with the introduction of lady nurses, and said he should make it a feature of his report to the government with a view to securing a similar system of nursing in other national homes.

urses of the Northwestern Branch, 1916

November 12, 1890

Are commended by the National Board of Managers.
The members of the National Board of Managers of the Soldiers’ Home arrived at the Plankinton house yesterday evening shortly after 6 o’clock, after having spent the greater part of the day at the Soldiers’ Home where the annual inspection was made. Quite a crowd had assembled in the hotel lobby for a purpose of getting a view of the gentlemen who made up the board especially Chief Justice Fuller who was expected to be in the party. They were disappointed however as the chief justice didn’t come, his duties detaining him in Washington. He is an ex-officio member of the board as are also the President of the United States and the secretary of war.

Speaking of the visit to the Home Col. Hyde one of the members and local manager of the eastern Home near Augusta Maine said “We found everything at the home satisfactory. It is in excellent condition, the discipline good and the food of the best quality. We noticed several improvements that have been made since our last visit, the most important of which is the introduction into the home of female nurses from the Nurses Training School. This was tried as an experiment on the recommendation of Col. John L. Mitchell, and it has proved to be a great success.  The home pays the management of the school so much for the services of two nurses. This has been found to be a great improvement over the old system of employing make nurses. In the first place, the girls are more skilled in taking care of the sick and do it in a manner that is much more comforting to the old soldiers. They are more gentle, more watchful and more careful, and as a result of their introduction we were told by the surgeon that the death rate has decreased considerably. The nurses themselves are benefited to a large extent as they have experience of certain sorts of diseases, which they would not be apt to encounter elsewhere.

So great has been the success that the Board of Managers today decided to introduce the system at the central home in Dayton.  This home has about 5,500 inmates, almost three times as many as are in the Milwaukee home. The girls for the Dayton home will be secured from the Nurses training school in Cincinnati presumably. We have not as yet made any arrangements but I have no doubt it can be done. I think eventually it will be done in all the homes.

The home here has the distinction of being the first one and Mr. Mitchell can claim a good share of the credit from whatever benefits accrue from it. I am under the impression that this is the first place in the country where female nurses have been employed exclusively in an institution where the patients are all male.  The matter originally was an experiment and there were a number of obstacles, which it is thought, might prove disastrous. But these have all been overcome and the whole thing is a great success.”

The Board of Managers will visit the home again today and finish the inspection. The party will leave tonight for Leavenworth Kansas and will continue from there to the Pacific Coast.

Nurses of the Northwestern Branch, 1920, in front of new tuberculosis hospital.

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