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Spanish-American War

An explosion on the United States battleship Maine off the coast of Cuba in 1898 catapulted the country into a war against Spain. The issue of Cuban independence from Spain was interwoven with naval operations in the Philippines and the annexation of Hawaii, the Philippine Islands and Puerto Rico.

In all, 263,000 US soldiers, 25,000 naval troops and over 10,000 African-American soldiers (serving in segregated units) fought in the war between Feb. and Aug. 1898. But disease created more casualties than the war itself: 379 American men died in combat, yet nearly 5,000 succumbed to pneumonia, typhoid, malaria and yellow fever.

The United States military was ill-prepared for the medical emergencies of tropical warfare and the need for trained medical personnel was urgent. The obvious solution to the military’s need was to contract trained female nurses for temporary military service—and such a personnel pool existed. Following the successful wide-scale participation of female nurses in the Civil War, professional training schools emerged; three opened in 1873. Nursing had developed into a firmly rooted profession by 1899, with more than 3,000 trained nurse graduates from 515 nursing schools.

By the end of the war, an estimated 1,563 Army contract nurses had served in Army and Navy general hospitals, aboard the hospital ship Relief, in stateside camps, the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.

With generous support from Iron Mountain, we are digitizing our significant Spanish-American War Collection. The collection includes hundreds of photographs, service documents, letters, news clippings, and irreplaceable artefacts from 1898; once digitized, the collection will be used in future permanent exhibits at the Women’s Memorial as well as for a digital, online archive that will be available for researchers and the public.(Read more)

Visit our online exhibit to learn about their experiences.