Monday, January 14, 2013

Fighting for Democracy: Frances Slanger and the Army Nurse Corps

             Immigration to the east coast of the U.S. in the early 20th century was no easy task.  Individuals were subject to physical examinations and many times those with illnesses were sent back from whence they came. 

Furthermore, the passage of the Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigration from non-western Europeans. According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian, the purpose of the act was "to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity." The immigration of southern and eastern Europeans (especially Jews) was highly restricted and the immigration of Middle Easterners, East Asians, and Indians was prohibited.  

Why do you think that many Americans were so eager to support restricted immigration?

Inside the “Great Hall” where newly arrived immigrants wait for hours in long lines for inspection, Ellis Island Immigration Station, Port of New York, 1904.  Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.


The exhibit Fighting for Democracy includes the story of Frances Slanger. Born in Poland in 1913, Frances immigrated to the U.S. when she was 7-years-old in order to escape the persecution of Jews in her home country.  Instead of following the traditional path of marriage, she decided to enlist in the Army Nurse Corps, a branch of service entirely comprised of medically trained women.

Frances and fellow nurses tending to a patient, Boston City Hospital, ca 1940.
Frances is first on the right.
Courtesy of the Frances Slanger Collection in The Howard Gotlieb Archival Research
Center at Boston University.
 The more than 59,000 American women of the Army Nurse Corps in World War II served in field hospitals and evacuation hospitals, among other stations, in their efforts to treat injured soldiers. The nurses worked closer to the front lines than they had in previous wars, often putting themselves in the way of danger.

Although Frances dutifully served in France, she and her female colleagues were paid half their male counterparts’ salary.

What do you think it says about our society that equal pay for women is still a hot-button issue?

To learn how Frances’s story ends, come view the exhibit Fighting for Democracy at Levine Museum of the New South from January 19th through July 14th, 2013.

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