Ladies and gentlemen, this week is National Nurses Week, when we take time to appreciate the hard work and dedication of those who have taken the Florence Nightingale pledge to “aid the physician in his [or her] work, and devote myself to the welfare of those committed to my care.”
Today, nurses are fighting to close the ever-persistent gender wage gap (because, yep, male nurses make more money than women nurses, despite it being a female-dominated industry and also 2015). But back in war-era 1940s, nursing was an exciting way for women to fulfill their patriotic duty while also securing an education.
"There was a desperate shortage of nurses, so the government had to do marketing. They didn’t know how long the war would last, and they needed to do what they could to get nurses in supply," Karen Egenes, associate professor at Loyola University Chicago’s Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing, told Fusion. "They really billed it as patriotic duty."
If you scan the the nurse recruitment posters, whether for the Army, the Navy, or the short-lived, but groundbreaking Nurse Cadet Corps, you'll notice they have one thing in common: They all depict women as both heroic and drop-dead gorgeous.
"Nursing has always been glamorized,” Egenes said. But it wasn’t just the thrill of travel and patriotism that recruited women. "Some of the posters encouraged women to become a nurse, but they also promised a free education."
“So if you went through the cadet nurse corps, you were obligated to serve in the military for the duration of the war, but your tuition, room, board, and books were paid for. Plus, you were paid a little bit of a stipend,“ Egenes said. Not a bad gig, especially in post-Depression America.
So now, without further ado, from the folks who brought you those propaganda posters about loose lips sinking ships and buying war bonds (i.e., the U.S. government), here are some of the most badass and iconic war nurse posters.
1. Patriotism and service
(1942) Simple. Well tailored American-flag sleeves. And her upward gaze toward whatever male figure is donning her nurse's cap reminds us all that nursing is indeed service.
2. The Charles de Gaulle
(1943) Not only was she glamorous, but dammit, she commanded authority.
3. At the ready, tray and all
(1945) Okay, to be honest, I think this woman may need to get her eyes checked out, but nonetheless, there were several options for women in the wartime medical industry.
4. Military crises beget existential crises
(1943) She looks like she's about to break some rough news to him. Or maybe she's finding herself in his eyes!
5. A proud profession
(1943.) Bringing that education incentive!
6. A little more dire
(1944) The woman depicted in the photo may still have her feminine figure, but with her IV bottle and rifle at her side, this is clearly a more urgent and grave take on recruitment.
7. From across the pond
(Year unknown) Alright, we're taking a break from American nurse ads to feature one from the U.K. Ministry of Labour and National Service. Glad to see women aren't any less pretty over there.
8. There she goes
(1945) She's an inspiration to us all, particularly soon-to-be high school grads, who are also probably considering becoming a Rosie (as in, Rosie the Riveter).
9. The romance of war
(1950) Alright, so this came out a few years after WWII ended, but really, what's an education and a career in nursing if you can't find a husband?
10. A beacon of hope
(1943) They're not kidding around with that "45 years of age" bit of the small text.
Still, in this image, the stark contrast between the war-torn landscape in the background and the fierce compassion of the woman in the foreground perfectly depicts the nurse exactly as she was seen at the time: an angel of mercy.