Those who also served: medics in the first world warBMJ 2018; 363 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k4701 (Published 07 November 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;363:k4701
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The Armistice issue of the BMJ showed pictures of medical care in the first world war. There is a picture of 5 women in an operating theatre with a patient. The caption is ‘nurses attend an operation on a wounded soldier in a battle hospital in France’. I think this was taken directly off the internet including the caption.
Just looking at the picture, I can only see one person who is identified as a nurse. There appears to be a woman anaesthetist, and the woman supervising the procedure is wearing a white coat, so more likely to be a doctor than nurse. The two women in scrubs could be surgeons or nurses.
I have tried to identify the woman whose face we can see online, only to discover how little information there is on the women doctors who served in the First World War. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s own daughter Louisa was a surgeon in France, and there were many more including the women doctors of Elsie Inglis’ Scottish Women's Hospitals for Foreign Service.
Simply ignoring women in traditionally male roles, has been a major factor in perpetuating gender stereotypes. A feature on the women doctors and surgeons at the front, as well as the work of Marie Curie, going to the front with her mobile x-ray machine, would give due recognition to these impressive women.
Just on visual cues alone, it seems unlikely that the 5 women in the photo were all nurses.
Can any readers identify the location and/or identities in the picture?
Competing interests: No competing interests
Dear BMJ Editor,
In your article "Those who also served" is an image with the caption "nurses attend an operation on a wounded soldier in a battle hospital in France" (page 218 of the paper BMJ). I strongly suspect that this is a photograph from one of the "Women's Hospitals" of WWI and you will find that everyone in the photo - nurses, surgeon, anaesthetist, supervising consultant - is a woman.
Please would you be able to check your source and if necessary issue a correction? These hospitals were an incredible achievement, and in themselves are worthy of an article in the BMJ. I attach below a short extract from a chapter I contributed to the Medical Women's Federation centenary book to give you a snapshot. To say "nurses attend an operation" is to fall into the trap of sexist assumption that women must be nurses!
With many thanks and good wishes,
"In 1914, soon after the outbreak of war, women doctors volunteered their services. Although the War Office refused to commission women doctors for foreign service, an outstanding initiative came from Elsie Inglis, suffragist and doctor in Edinburgh, who raised large funds through the Scottish Women’s Hospital Committee to help Red Cross work.
Frances Ivens was asked to run the first Scottish Women’s Hospital unit, which was bound for France. The Abbaye de Royaumont was situated 25 miles from Paris; the British unit arrived in December to create a field hospital amongst the cloisters and vaulted halls, lacking water and electricity. Despite an initial failed inspection by the French authorities, by early January there were four wards equipped with nearly 100 beds, and the hospital opened that month. Dr Ivens was Chief Medical Officer, supported by half-a-dozen doctors - all were women, as were their nursing colleagues and orderlies.
The work of the hospital increased and their facilities expanded (including out-patient care for local people). The hospital treated over 10,000 patients up to 1919, including many traumatic injuries in male soldiers, performed over 7000 operations with a low mortality rate, and Dr Ivens became an expert in managing gas gangrene in the pre-antibiotic era. She wrote in the BMJ in 1917 that the team ‘had not shrunk from personal risk and hardship...bringing modern scientific methods to bear on the novel clinical problems of this war.’ They received visits from high-ranking Army personnel, overseas surgeons, and newspaper correspondents; in 1916 the French President toured the hospital.
In 1917 the French authorities asked Dr Ivens to open another hospital further north at Villers Cotterets, close to the front line. The workload was high and arrivals were triaged into those who needed immediate surgery and those who could be transported; the staff worked without respite. With the German advance in spring 1918 they had to evacuate back to Royaumant. During the war, Miss Ivens made only one visit home to England; she devoted her energies to the hospital, which at its peak during the Battle of the Somme had 600 beds. She clearly engendered huge respect and loyalty (‘La Colonelle’) and led by example working in the wards and theatres. When the Armistice came and the hospital units were disbanded, a ceremony was held to award 23 staff with the Croix de Guerre. Frances Ivens was also made a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur. "
Competing interests: No competing interests