Suffragists, however, seized on the war
as an opportunity to bolster their cause, and in 1918, organized the Women's Oversea Hospitals Unit
to serve in France. They were responding to the powerful antisuffragist argument
that declared that women should not have the right to vote because they could not prove themselves as full citizens -- by fighting for their country.
Yet who knows their story? It may surprise many to find out that more than 100 American women during World War I were decorated by foreign governments -- yet none were recognized by the United States, even when they were operating within American-sponsored volunteer groups. Why is it that we are still contending with women being left out of American history, especially military history? Historians must remove women's history from the margins and place it prominently as American history.
As in 2020, the year 1918, was shaped both by global pandemic and protest. As Americans today process a momentous anniversary -- the centennial of the ratification of the 19th Amendment recognizing women's right to vote -- against the current backdrop of Covid-19's devastating effects, the story of the suffragist doctors is a timely reminder of the honor and respect still due to too many forgotten American women.
Carrie Chapman Catt, the leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA), sent the first group of the 78 American women physicians and nurses to France in February 1918. These women, working under the auspices of the newly formed Women's Oversea Hospitals Unit, were led by Dr. Caroline Sandford Finley.
A graduate of Cornell Medical College, Finley was in the top 10
of her class and had worked her way up to lead the department of obstetrics at the New York Infirmary for Women and Children
. Despite having no military training, the suffragist physicians and nurses felt that if they proved themselves in war, it would be impossible to