The military has always served as a proving ground for the evolution of social norms within America.
This was just as true in Colorado in 1898 as it is in the nation today.
In that year, the daughter of an Army officer, mother of three, and Colorado resident, would play a huge role in that evolution while acting as an advocate for the enlisted Colorado National Guardsmen in the Philippines.
Rose Kidd Beere took seriously her father’s lament that the Spanish American War would be the first American conflict in which the family would have no one to serve in uniform. Her boys too young and her father too old, Beere's resolve to serve in support of her country intensified.
Trained from the Women’s Medical College of Northwestern University, she was fully qualified to serve in the Army as a nurse -- except for one crucial pre-requisite of the time: she wasn't a man. Unwilling to waiver, she decided instead to push the limits of the societal norms.
With endorsements from Colorado Gov. Alva Adams, Soldiers Aid Societies, and some travel money, Beere made her way to the port of San Francisco and searched for accommodations to the Philippines in order to tend to sick and wounded Colorado Guardsmen fighting the Spanish American War.
She was reliant upon herself alone for safety, accommodations, and travel.
Beere was an anomaly; she was the very first woman to gain official permission from the government to go on a government transport by order of the secretary of war.
She found many sick Colorado Soldiers before she even left San Francisco, and tended to them, and more in Honolulu, en route to Manila. Along the way -- and from her own pocket -- she purchased cold cures and medicines, and administered them as necessary.
Difficulties mounted upon her arrival in Manila. She found herself among a group of Red Cross nurses, but neither she nor they were allowed in the Army hospital. It was only when the Army hospitals were overflowing and the Red Cross facilities were needed that the military officers relented and allowed the female nurses to treat the Soldiers.
Unfortunately for the Soldiers, conditions in the hospital were so bad that the men preferred to lie sick in their quarters rather than go to a medical facility. Beere quickly earned a rapport with the enlisted men as she tended to them, not only as an effective nurse, but a reminder of home, calling her the “ministering angel.”
Officers were not as welcoming. It could be argued that they saw her as unofficial -- an imposter in the Army environment. Just as convincing, however, is the notion that she was a woman trying to barge her way into a man’s world. Whatever reservations the officers had about Beere, the enlisted men embraced her, which drove a wedge further between the officers and men of the First Colorado, who were already demoralized as a result of months without fighting and deplorable rations.
Between the summer of 1898 and February of 1899, very little happened in the way of military action or nutrition. Rations were meager, if not rotten and maggot infested, and daily drills and inspections were the closest thing to military operations the men had done in months. Feeling forgotten and desperate, the Soldiers began to make efforts to contact politicians and relatives back home about the situation. However, when the officers found out, they began to censor and punish the Soldiers. Beere became an advocate for them at the cost of her already-fragile reputation. Then the Soldiers Aid Society withdrew her financial support.
Still, the nurse persisted, and the Soldiers never forgot Beere's devotion to them. Though she returned to Colorado ahead of the men, they gave her raucous applause at their homecoming. Two years later, the Army Nurse Corps was founded.
Defining moments like the one afforded to Rose Kidd Beere are born from exceptional circumstances. Her letter of praise from Gov. Adams is an item without which she wouldn't have been allowed to travel to the Philippines. Without initial financial support from the Soldiers Aid Society, she'd have never made it out of the country. And, without the total backing of the Soldiers of the First Colorado, Beere may not have persisted.
However, the difference lies in the fact that, when given an opportunity, Beere made the most of it. She never quit, and she never looked back. She is a testament to Americans of what can happen when care for self is cast aside and the task at hand is the sole focus.
Later, she became the first woman to be given membership in the United States Spanish American War veterans organizations. She was also the assistant health commissioner and superintendent of the county hospital, jobs that women did not typically hold at the time. But her true notoriety came from her service with the First Colorado in the Spanish American War.
1."Colorado’s Volunteer Infantry in the Philippine Wars, 1898-1899" by Geoff Hunt
2. Beere's obituary