Wars in the Wards: The Social Construction of Medical Work in First World War Britain

TitleWars in the Wards: The Social Construction of Medical Work in First World War Britain
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsWatson, Janet S. K.
JournalJournal of British Studies
Date Published10/2002

When the Imperial War Museum was founded in early 1917, the subcommittee in charge of collections related to “Women's Work” solicited contributions from Dr. Flora Murray of the Military Hospital at Endell Street in London. Murray and Dr. Louisa Garrett Anderson had formed the Women's Hospital Corps and, with the French Red Cross, opened hospitals in Paris and Wimereux in the early stages of the war. After successful cooperation with British military and medical authorities overseas, they were asked to open the Endell Street facility, the only hospital operating under the auspices of the War Office to be staffed entirely by women. Murray refused to cooperate with the museum committee “because she wished her hospital to be considered purely professionally as a military hospital and not as women's war work.”This was not just rhetoric of women's equality from someone who described herself as “one of Mrs. Pankhurst's lot,” but reflected the new emphasis on professionalism that had developed in the preceding fifty years. The First World War provided new opportunities for work in a variety of fields more or less closely related to the perpetuation and advancement of the armed conflict; scholars have recently focused in particular on working-class women in industry and paramilitary organizations. Though opportunities for educated women increased throughout civil society, my focus here is on work that was perceived as explicitly on behalf of the war effort, with a special concentration on three populations of women working in hospitals: doctors, trained nurses, and volunteers.

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