During her talk, “War and Wounds,” Anna Carden-Coyle, raised the idea that the World War I hospital, with its patients and its nurses, reversed the Victorian dichotomy of the active male and passive female. Able-bodied female nurses ran the ward; the male wounded soldiers were under their authority. As we saw in the cartoons from Carden-Coyle’s slides, some soldiers regarded their nurses as ministering angels; others saw them as cruel giantesses. As part of their rehabilitation, the patients engaged in stereotypically feminine pursuits such as needlework, and the description quoted in Carden-Coyle’s talk of a woman’s delight in purchasing a quilt made by a group of wounded soldiers verges on the voyeuristic. This dynamic change to active female and passive male that took place in World War I hospitals must have presented an interesting change to a generation still relatively steeped in Victorian and Edwardian gender roles.
Although the hospital might temporarily blur gender roles, the wounded were eventually expected to return to the macho life of an active-duty soldier. The expression of pain had gendered, racial, and class nuances, according to Carden-Coyle, and a man who did not soon learn to hide his pain might be accused of malingering. Especially for those in the officer class, pain was expected to be hidden. To do other than maintaining a stiff upper lip meant risking being called a coward and a lesser man. In addition, the myth of the “Happy Hospital,” in which patients and nurses alike were always jolly, never fearful, and totally convinced of the rightness of the war, stifled honesty. Taken together, these ideas of changing gender roles and unquestioning patriotism defined the military hospital experience during World War I.