“I Want Something to Do”: Alcott, Whitman, and Nursing in the Nation’s Capital
(Jointly sponsored by the Louisa May Alcott Society and Walt Whitman Studies Association)
This session will examine the wartime experiences of two author-nurses whose writings about their care for the wounded in Washington, DC during the Civil War proved central to Americans’ knowledge of and attitudes toward the nursing profession at this time. In Alcott’s case, Nurse Tribulation Periwinkle blends humor with pathos as the grim horrors of caring for the patients in the Union hospital in Georgetown counter her initially patriotic journey to Washington to take up her post. Likewise the bold march of Whitman’s “Beat! Beat! Drums!” has given way by the war’s weary end to the grief and sorrow expressed in poems such as “The Wound-Dresser” and “Spirit Whose Work Is Done.” We seek papers that examine one or both of these authors’ nursing experiences and writings, particularly in relation to their physical presence in Washington’s disease-ridden, ill-equipped hospitals. Positioning the nurse as an intermediary between battlefield and home, how do Alcott and Whitman represent suffering and care? What role did their war experiences play in the reshaping of their attitudes toward death or their views about the South? How did the Civil War reshape their careers and writing styles (in comparable ways)? Following their nursing experiences, what has Washington, DC come to signify or represent in their writings? What are the connections between their nursing experiences and their conscious or unconscious expressions of sexual desire, eroticism, and love? To what extent do their Civil War writings challenge contemporary gender conventions, and how were they shaped by these conventions? Send brief abstracts by January 20, 2014, to Sandy Petrulionis at firstname.lastname@example.org and to Ed Folsom at email@example.com.