Louisa May Alcott

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Hospital Sketches

Alcott, Louisa May

Last Updated: Aug-29-2006

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novelette


Alcott briefly served as a nurse during the Civil War. These three brief "sketches" recount her experiences, though she gives herself a pseudonym and presumably embellishes her tale. The first sketch recounts her decision to become a nurse and her journey from Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. Despite her support of female equality, she finds her tasks go more smoothly when gentlemen help her.

The second sketch describes her job at the hospital. When the wounded are brought in, it is her duty to help wash and feed them, assist the doctors, and cheer the men up. She calls the men her "boys" and treats them maternally. In the third sketch, she falls ill herself and is brought home by her father.

In a postscript, she talks a bit more about the hospital. She criticizes its disorganized management and mocks the doctors, many of whom treat the patients as interesting problems to be solved rather than as people. Caring is left to the nurses. She mentions that she expected to be treated poorly by the doctors herself, but finds that they treat her well (though she also says they receive much better food and sleeping quarters). This section also contains lengthy reflections on the "Negroes" who help at the hospital.

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