Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




North Dakota women served in the United States Army and Navy Nurse Corps during World War I as Red Cross Reserve nurses. In 1935 the North Dakota American Legion Auxiliary collected and compiled, in manuscript form, brief biographies of these women and placed the manuscript at the North Dakota State Library in Bismarck. This paper is an attempt to describe the circumstances surrounding North Dakota nurses' participation in World War I.

The Red Cross Nursing Service Committee was the primary agency recruiting and training nurses. Numerous books, nursing journals, newspaper accounts, and magazine articles about Red Cross nursing were read. Research was undertaken in the North Dakota State Library to study the original manuscript, and at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where all Red Cross records are stored. All files pertinent to World War I nursing were reviewed, as were records of the Surgeon General's Office. Additional research was done at the U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C.; its records and an unpublished history of the Army Nurse Corps were reviewed.

It is apparent from this study that the Red Cross Nursing Service played a vital role in the development of medical services during World War I, from locating potential military nurses, through training, equipping, supervising, and assisting in their assimilation back to civilian nursing. The Red Cross Nursing Service also worked with the Surgeon General's Office and national nurses' associations to develop an Army School of Nursing which had a profound effect on elevating nursing education standards in the post war years by requiring higher admission standards and increased academic study. The Red Cross insistence on professionally trained military nurses and its lobbying for military rank for nurses resulted in several Army reorganization acts which changed forever the role of women in the military.

The microcosm of North Dakota serves as a useful case study to illustrate the process by which nurses were recruited, trained, supervised, and demobilized in World War I. Further than that, war nursing experience gave North Dakota women the opportunity to learn, to develop their nursing and leadership skills, to see other parts of the world, and to increase their self-esteem and confidence by having succeeded in a very difficult job.