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Monday, June 29, 2015

Without the Dignity of Rank and the Respect Which It Insures, They Have Both Individually and Collectively Been . . . Misprized and Professionally Thwarted"

As we've seen in the last several posts, Oregon Base Hospital 46 Nurses joined nurses across the nation in protesting their second class status in the U.S. military. They had no official rank in an institution that was based on rank. From 1918 - 1920 nurses and their allies, including supporters of woman suffrage, worked to achieve rank for nurses. By 1919 most supported a middle ground proposal of "relative rank" that would give nurses a sort of official status but without the same pay and benefits as male officers (See my Mobilizing Minerva, pp. 123-141 for a discussion of this process). Congress passed the Jones-Raker Bill with "relative rank" for nurses as part of an army reorganization plan, and President Warren Harding signed it into law on June 4, 1920.

Many Oregon nurses supported action on rank for military nurses. The Oregon State Graduate Nurses Association, established in 1904 as an advocacy organization for nurses in the state, had Oregon Senator George Chamberlain, a member of the U.S. Senate's committee on Military Affairs, present a statement of support for rank from the association to the senate in 1919.

"Rank for Nurses Likely," Oregonian, May 23, 1919, 28.
Mary C. Campbell, R.N. of Milwaukie, Oregon, was secretary of the Oregon State Graduate Nurses' Association and presented the statement to Chamberlain, which read:

"Without the dignity of rank and its evidence of authority to give orders, the nurses have been forced throughout their service to see the efficiency of their professional labors impaired.
"Without the dignity of rank and the respect which it insures, they have both individually and collectively been personally discommoded, embarrassed, ignored and misprized and professionally thwarted.
"Hence, it is indeed to be hoped that the new congress will give this matter its specific attention and by the conferring of rank on nurses eliminate the causes of these unfortunate consequences."

The nurses chose strong language to emphasize the weight of the offenses and emphasized their claims to dignity and respect. We don't often use the term "misprized" today, but it means to hold in contempt, to despise. I have argued in Mobilizing Minerva that nurses worked for rank, in part, to address gender based hostility and discrimination in the wartime workplace. This statement by the Oregon State Graduate Nurses' Associaion certainly supports this idea. And we also know that rank, even full rank that came during World War II, did not resolve the problems of the military workplace. But it was an important part of women's claims to economic citizenship and access to military professionalism and service.

The graduate nurse association also threw a party for returning Base Hospital 46 nurses as we'll see in the next post.

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