American Angels of Mercy: Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee's Pictorial Record of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904

"American Angels of Mercy: Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee's Pictorial Record of the Russo-Japanese War, 1904" opened Oct. 1, 2001 at the National Museum of Health and Medicine and will remain through Feb. 28, 2002.

Dr. McGee, an acting assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army and founder of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps that she directed from 1898-1901, led a group of trained nurses to work in Japanese army hospitals for six months in 1904. As volunteers, McGee and her nurses were treated as guests of the Japanese nation, greeted with "Welcome, American Angels of Mercy" banners in the streets.

"During the whole of the time the party spent in Japan the appreciation and gratitude of the soldiers and of the whole nation, from the Throne itself and the highest nobility down to the country folk and school children, found expression in a thousand ways," McGee said in a 1905 lecture about her experiences.

On her return to the United States, McGee delivered lectures using colored lantern slides that had largely been made from photographs she acquired. The new exhibit is based on McGee's photograph collection, including works by several noted American, British, and Japanese photographers of the early 20th century, which is part of the museum's Otis Historical Collections. Among the nearly 200 photographs in the exhibit are those that depict:

  • her welcome, which she said was "thoroughly characteristic of the polite nation"
  • the Japanese army's medical corps as she saw it from the inside
  • the military hospitals and their management
  • the Red Cross Society, with a membership of nearly a million
  • the work of the Japanese nurses and of her own party
  • life at the Military Reserve Hospital in Hiroshima
  • honors shown the dead
  • experiences of some of the wounded soldiers
  • hospital ships
  • how she lived in Chinese temples and visited Korean battlefields
  • Russian prisoners and their treatment as she saw it in Manchuria, on the hospital ships, and at the prisoner's hospital in Matsuyama.

"This exhibit focuses on the half-year Dr. McGee and a party of nine nurses spent in Japan working side by side with Japanese nurses in the wards and operating rooms," said Michael Rhode, archivist in the museum's Otis Historical Archives. "She was given the rank of an officer in the Japanese Army, so she had unlimited access to inspect and report on various hospitals in Japan, in Manchuria, and Korea."

The Japanese minister of war appointed McGee supervisor in 1904 of the Nurses Red Cross Society of Japan. For her efforts she received the rare honor of the "Order of the Sacred Crown" from His Majesty, the Emperor of Japan as well as the special decoration of the Red Cross Society.

The Otis Historical Archives at the National Museum of Health and Medicine contain more than 350 collections, including an extensive photographic collection with many early photomicrographs, examples of medical illustrations from the Civil War and World War I, films and videos, and trade literature and advertisements from the late 19th century. The holdings of the archives would stretch more than a mile if laid end to end.

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