Abstract

This article argues that the Civil War hospital was the site at which the heteronormative American family was challenged by the writing and practice of queer nurses such as Walt Whitman and Louisa May Alcott. Like Whitman’s, Alcott’s Civil War writing establishes a process of queer family-making that has room for both sincere affection and erotic desire. In Hospital Sketches, Alcott’s heroine Tribulation rejects the patriarchal nuclear family and figures herself as a member of a functional and fulfilling queer household—she becomes a soldier, nurse, mother, sister, lover, and protector to her patients. After her identity-affirming work outside of oppressive family structures, Tribulation’s sickness and early discharge from service are described as physical and psychic war wounds, and the end of Alcott’s story depicts Tribulation as a wounded soldier in the fight for non-normative families.

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