The actions and sacrifices of men in the World Wars are highly acknowledged and appreciated—as they should be. But with a shadow so large being cast, women’s contributions often go unnoticed. In reality, women had one hell of a job to do during the Wars; everything.
Without the thousands of phenomenal women like the two discussed in this article, history would be written completely differently. These two badass women dedicated their lives to what they were passionate about, and consequently made significant changes to what men, and other women, thought they were capable of. I hope women like these will become more widely discussed and provide more inspiration for their following generations.
Esther Hasson was an admirable woman, pioneer, and nurse who forever left her legacy impressed in military history. Despite this, there is a disappointing amount of information pertaining to Hasson’s career on the internet, which was why I wanted to write about her.
Hasson was born September 20, 1867 in Baltimore to her father, Army surgeon Alexander Hasson, and her mother, Hessie. She became a graduate of the Connecticut Training School for Nurses in 1897, and during 1898 she became a contract nurse for the US Army in the Spanish-American War. She left her contract position in 1901 and served in Panama between 1905 and 1907.
On August 18, 1908, Hasson took the oath of office and was appointed the first superintendent of the newly established Navy Nurse Corps. In doing so, she became one of a group known as the “Sacred Twenty”; the first twenty nurses brought into the Navy Nurse Corps. This was a huge step forward in bringing women into male-dominated spheres, especially one like the Navy. By the time she vacated her position as superintendent in January 1911, the strength of the corps was increased by 85 women.
In the span of almost two and a half years, Hasson created an army of nurses in a time when women were expected to stay in the home and rear children. Taking advantage of her position as superintendent, she was able to build a highly respected and skilled team with impressive benefits. Though pay was still limited for women at this period in time, Hasson did what she could to give her badass ladies the best. In June 1917 she was called to action during the First World War, during which she was the chief nurse of two Allied hospitals in Europe. After the armistice, she went back to America and settled in Washington until she passed in 1942.
Born on January 22, 1876 in North Yorkshire, Flora Sandes went on to be the only British woman to serve on the front lines during World War One. She was a woman who gave the finger to gender expectations with her strong ‘tomboy’ nature.
Working as a stenographer, she left the UK to pursue adventure abroad, from Cairo to North America. Once she returned to the UK, she trained with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, also known as the Princess Royal’s Volunteer Corps. The Corps was not part of Britain’s Reserve Army, but they participated in nursing and intelligence duties during the First and Second World Wars. Sandes was part of a shooting club, learned to drive and owned a racing car, drank, and smoked (these activities were not usually pursued by middle-class Edwardian women).
Sandes was 38 when the Great War broke out in 1914. She became a volunteer for the St. John Ambulance Service and left for Serbia. This intelligent badass became fluent in Serbian after a year and was sent to work on the front line with a Serbian regiment. With the Serbs being forced into retreat by the Austro-Germans, Sandes enlisted in the Serbian army and rose to the position of Sergeant-Major, publishing An English Woman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army in 1916.
While Sandes was fighting in Macedonia, she received major injuries from a grenade. With a broken arm and extensive shrapnel wounds, she was taken off the field to recover and the Serbian government awarded her the King George Star. While on leave she would give lectures to British soldiers on the Western front, as well as speeches in order to raise money for food and supplies for the Serbian army.
As soon as she had healed from her extensive injuries, Sandes was back in the trenches alongside her men, surviving even the Spanish influenza after the war had ended. In 1922, she was demobilized, and returned to England only to move to Serbia in 1927. When war broke out again in 1941, then-65-year-old Sandes once again enlisted to fight the Axis powers. She was imprisoned by the Gestapo (German secret police) after the Germans occupied Yugoslavia, but once again survived through the war. She died on November 24th, 1956 after 80 long and good years of challenging the gender stereotypes of her time and being a war hero.
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