What to Bring to a War: A Packing List for WWII Army Nurses

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
May 21 2013 11:15 AM

What to Bring to a War: A Packing List for WWII Army Nurses

The Vault is Slate's new history blog. Like us on Facebook; follow us on Twitter @slatevault; find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This WWII-era packing list for Army nurses was sent to me by reader Patricia Britton, whose mother, Laura Rodriguez, served from 1944 through 1946.

Rodriguez , who was 23 when she enlisted, had worked for less than a year at a hospital in Gallup, N.M. when she entered basic training for army nurses in Texas. She received the list while making preparations to fly with her unit to Germany, in December, 1944.


That late in the war, the number of Army nurses in the European theater was at its height (in June 1945, there were 17,345). The list, with its observations about the way things were in Europe, reflects the experiences of the nurses who had gone overseas before Rodriguez.

The list is full of practical advice. The nurses were told that they were allowed 175 lbs. in total luggage, including their bedding. They were to bring items that were hard to find overseas (shoes, hose, Kotex) and things that would keep them warm (woolen underwear, pajamas, flannel sheets).

Some recommended items that were meant to boost morale: cloth to fashion curtains to “brighten up” nurses’ quarters; a book to contribute to everyone’s entertainment aboard ship and in the hospital.

The list also reminds nurses about protocol. They were to dress in full uniform on their way to their departure, as “the public not only observes you closely but critically.” Small matters like the question of lipstick (bring “plenty”) and nail polish (“polish brighter than Windsor [presumably the now-discontinued Revlon shade] is taboo in some theatres”) reflect the Army’s need to control the way its nurses appeared to the world.

Rodriguez served in the European Theatre in the Rhineland Campaign, and was honorably discharged at the rank of First Lieutenant.

Thanks to Patricia Britton for sharing her mother’s documents.

Packing List 1

Image courtesy of Patricia Britton.


Image courtesy of Patricia Britton.



Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Hong Kong’s Protesters Are Ridiculously Polite. That’s What Scares Beijing So Much.

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly

Natasha Lyonne Is Coming to the Live Culture Gabfest. Are You?

A Jaw-Dropping Political Ad Aimed at Young Women, Apparently

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?

Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

Tattoo Parlors Have Become a Great Investment

This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century

Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM This Gargantuan Wind Farm in Wyoming Would Be the Hoover Dam of the 21st Century To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Honcho Says Celebs Who Keep Nude Photos in the Cloud Are “Stupid”
  News & Politics
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM It Wasn’t a Secret A 2013 inspector general report detailed all of the Secret Service’s problems. Nobody cared.
Business Insider
Oct. 2 2014 11:16 AM Some McDonald's Monopoly Properties Matter More
The Vault
Oct. 2 2014 11:07 AM Mapping 1890 Manhattan's Crazy-Quilt of Immigrant Neighborhoods
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 2 2014 10:36 AM How Bad Will Adam Sandler’s Netflix Movies Be?
Future Tense
Oct. 2 2014 11:01 AM Surge Pricing Is Not Price Gouging
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 2 2014 9:49 AM In Medicine We Trust Should we worry that so many of the doctors treating Ebola in Africa are missionaries?
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?