The War Nurse

Written by Tracey Enerson Wood
Review by Valerie Adolph

Julie Stimson is Superintendent of Nurses at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis in April 1917 when she is asked on short notice to develop and lead a team of nurses to assist with the care of war casualties in Europe. The daughter of a wealthy professional family in New York, Julie always hoped to become a doctor but, being a girl, this was deemed impossible. Nursing was the obvious fallback choice of profession; she is irked by this throughout her life.

She is assigned to a field hospital receiving trainloads of war-wounded patients with a wide range of injuries and burns. The numbers greatly exceed the space and facilities available. Her staff often find themselves working around the clock to provide care. She finds her role is not only to lead and support her nurses but also to develop strategies to work more effectively within an outdated military and medical environment. The more personal side of her character is displayed in her somewhat ambiguous but close connection to Dr. Fred Murphy.

The novel’s main themes are Julie’s overarching struggle to improve the organization of field hospitals and the choice she has to make between her mission in life and her love for Dr. Murphy. Wood presents a story that engages the reader on many levels. She helps us not only to learn about but also to feel the frustrations of a woman confined by the very limited expectations of her sex and her role. Like Florence Nightingale, she is appalled by the conditions facing the war-wounded and determined to improve them.

This novel is a thoughtful presentation of the issues facing an intelligent woman who must address the dictates not only of the military and medical establishment but also the expectations of society itself.