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Reviewed by:
  • Nursing Civil Rights: Gender and Race in the Army Nurse Corps by Charissa J. Threat
  • Judy Barrett Litoff
Nursing Civil Rights: Gender and Race in the Army Nurse Corps. By Charissa J. Threat. Women in American History. (Urbana and other cities: University of Illinois Press, 2015. Pp. [xii], 198. Paper, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-252-08077-7; cloth, $85.00, ISBN 978-0-0252-03920-1.)

Nursing Civil Rights: Gender and Race in the Army Nurse Corps by Charissa J. Threat is a slim volume that looks at issues confronting African [End Page 729] American women and white men as they campaigned to enter the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) on an equal footing with white women. The discrimination faced by African American female nurses that Threat examines is well known. In particular, discussions of the work of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, under the leadership of Mabel K. Staupers during the first half of the twentieth century, are a standard feature of many nursing histories. Threat acknowledges these nursing sources, but she also presents the history of the prejudice and discrimination encountered by African Americans in a way that suggests she has uncovered their story. While the history of white male nurses is not as well known as that of African American female nurses, it is nonetheless a history that has also been explored. Threat, however, misleadingly suggests that her study presents a new perspective on male nursing history and the campaigns of both white male nurses and African American female nurses to achieve parity in the ANC.

Throughout this book, Threat claims more than she actually accomplishes. In her introduction, she states, “This study links the story of the Army Nurse Corps to critical events in the United States between World War II and the Vietnam War” (p. 3). But she devotes fewer than fifty pages to this complicated topic. Moreover, she diverts her attention from the ANC to focus on larger social issues such as the nursing profession’s efforts to become “part of the ‘frontline’ in maintaining America’s strength against the disease of communism” (p. 79). Similarly, her discussion of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in this reviewer’s opinion loses sight of race and gender challenges encountered by the ANC.

Throughout this work, Threat equivocates and overgeneralizes. For example, she states that the Harry S. Truman administration’s “policy of nondiscrimination in the armed forces as a means to strengthen the U.S. image abroad and reduce domestic civil rights tensions had mixed results as neither a complete failure nor a complete success” (p. 106). Yet she neglects to explore the significance of how integrated military bases in otherwise segregated southern towns and cities had a positive impact on race relations in the South. Likewise, in her brief concluding chapter, she argues that “[t]he history of the ANC suggests … the civil rights movement of the twentieth century [was] … at times progressive and conservative” (p. 129). In addition, key events in the history of the Army Nurse Corps, African American female nurses, and white male nurses remain largely submerged in broader discussions that are often repetitive. Nursing Civil Rights would have made an excellent scholarly article. Unfortunately, it is does not meet the standards of a book-length study.

Judy Barrett Litoff
Bryant University


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