Friday, April 27, 2012

Friday Books: Strength of Women

I am about 80% done with My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira, so I'm going to go ahead with my review.

This is another excellent book. Mary Sutter is a woman who wants to become a surgeon. This is in the 1860's just as the Civil War begins. Of course, at that time women were not even considered for medical school (such as it was). She persistently asked doctors to sponsor her and put in a good word for her at the schools, but was always denied.

As the war begins, Mary dives into the work of nursing/maid/housekeeper/helper/surgeon's apprentice/you-name-it at a local hospital thrown together in a crumbling, old hotel. Conditions are worse than raunchy. It's a bug-infested, filthy building, stifling hot in summer, drafty and freezing in winter. The work continues at top speed 24 hours a day, with very little help and almost no supplies.

Pain killer consists of whiskey, and amputations are done with a saw.

You get the idea. It's filthy and disgusting work, and most of the soldiers die.

It is sad that they knew very little about infection in those days. Thousands died who would not have had to, because of the lack of cleanliness. The book is quite graphic and gory with all the wounds and how they attempt to treat them. I will spare you any more of the gore.

What leaves me most in awe is the fortitude of the women. Mary herself is unstoppable. She is determined to become a surgeon. She will not take No for an answer. Other women step up to help with nursing, and live out their days trying their best to comfort and treat the sick and dying, going home with blood all over their clothes, collapsing into bed, rising wearily the next day to do it all again.

I have been coddled. I can hardly stand to empty out the trash. I would not have been a good nurse ever, but especially back then. I am so amazed at what women had to put up with. At one point Mary is "forced" to take a day off. She wanders out into the city almost in a daze, not sure what to do. She enters a restaurant and is told "we don't serve unaccompanied women." What is that?? The Taliban?? Remember, I said Mary doesn't take No for an answer, so they do eventually serve her.

I would have left the place in tears and shame.

These strong women of old paved the way for wimps like me to have the luxury of being coddled and of having things handed to me. Mine has been an easy life. I get to relax and read great books like My Name is Mary Sutter. I give it 5 of 5 stars.


AnnieO said...

Those were definitely NOT the good old days for women! Thankfully we have come a long way. Thanks for the review!

Love your pic with the R E A D pages--very cool.

Carol E. said...

Agreed, Annie.. I found that READ photo somewhere.. those are carved into the book. I have two more similar photos, but different words. It's pretty, but ruined a book! LOL

Sextant said...


You are only a wimp because your situation has allowed you to be a wimp. I see a strength in you, in your different postings, and the things you care about. I think in bad times, you would have the back bone to stand up and do what needs done. The fact that you understand that you have been coddled in your current lifestyle, shows me a great strength.

Every now and again, someone will comment about how people today or kids today could never handle this situation or that situation. Well that is partly true, some of us couldn't, just like some people couldn't handle the Depression or the fighting in the past wars. But I believe that in a crises most of us would rise to the occasion. People will adjust to what their situation provides. The same guys that fought valiantly in World War II were rather complacent in the Eisenhower years.

Anyhow if things were to turn to poo, which they could at any time, I think I would consider myself fortunate to have you as a comrade in what ever capacity or situation we found ourselves. BTW, I have been coddled too, and quite actually, hope to remain that way!

Mariella said...

Hi, this my first time to your blog. I love books about what it was like in the "olden" days. Yes, we women are very lucky as compared to the lives of women in the past or even the women from other cultures. I'm living in Mexico now for 12 years and even though they fare better than the ladies from the past or other cultures.....I am aghast at the way they are expected to do all - all of the time. They must work with help with household expenses and then at home they can not expect one bit of help from their husbands if they have one. The machismo is just something else. I thank my lucky stars for my husband each and everyday for all that he helps me with. And he goes out of his way to help cook, clean, shop just so that I get a bit more time to sew at the end of our very busy days!! I love my life and am the happiest of women because one man cares so much to help.