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  • Walt Whitman: American Poet and Civil War Nurse

    Tuesday, August 11, 2020

    2020 has been named the Year of the Nurse and Midwife by the World Health Organization. To celebrate, every month we're highlighting a nurse who has helped change the world.

    Best known as a poet, Walt Whitman served as a volunteer nurse for three years during the Civil War. In December 1862, he traveled to Washington, D.C. to care for this brother, who had been injured in the war. Though he had no formal training, Whitman was so moved by this experience that he remained a volunteer nurse for the remainder of the war. It is believed that he cared for thousands of wounded men.

    In 1865, Whitman published Drum-Taps, a collection of poems written during the Civil War. One of the most famous poems from the collection, “The Wound-Dresser,” speaks to his work as a nurse to the soldiers:

    I am faithful, I do not give out,
    The fractur’d thigh, the knee, the wound in the abdomen,
    These and more I dress with impassive hand, (yet deep in my breast a fire, a burning flame.)

    Whitman is most famous for his collection Leaves of Grass, which includes the poems “Song of Myself” and “I Sing the Body Electric.” Whitman died in 1892.


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