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Volunteers and the Evolution of Nursing

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Nursing has been an integral part of patient care forever, but it was not always considered a medical profession in its own right. For centuries nursing was done privately by family members or publicly by religious orders. Prejudice and concerns for "moral decency" barred women from caring from the sick in hospitals until several wars in the 19th and early 20th centuries created the environment for change. Nursing historians have long credited the most visible pioneers of their profession, whose names are well-known: Florence Nightingale, Edith Clavell, Dorothea Dix, Clara Barton.

This article uncovers more about the evolution of nursing and how volunteers played an important, if rarely credited, role - women from many countries serving as nurses without pay or even paying their own way to the battlefront to do war nursing. Even the American poet Walt Whitman volunteered as a nurse during the Civil War, influencing his famous collection of poems, Leaves of Grass .