Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Leisa D Meyer


This dissertation is an analysis of the professionalization tactics of white, native-born, Protestant, middle-class women who served with the U.S. armed forces as dietitians during World War I. Through the overlapping rubrics of maternalism, citizenship, and professionalism, I examine the ways in which dominant race, class, and gender ideologies inflected their quest for professionalization. I specifically examine the way hospital dietitians infused their expertise with rhetoric of race betterment and national security to acquire distinct status and authority in relation to other female medical/health practitioners. In this study, I locate the ideological origins of Public Law 36, 80 th Congress, establishing the U.S. Women's Medical Specialist Corps, within the cultural sensibilities of American antebellum evangelical health reform movements. Public Law 80-36 (April 16, 1947) authorized Regular Army commissions for dietitians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists. I contend that dietetics, a central force in the rise of the home economics movement, also served as an important portal for women's access to higher education in science and medicine. Finally, I hold that military service was critical to the professionalization of women's labor and claims to citizenship in early twentieth century America. In other words, military service allowed native-born, Protestant, middle- and upper-class, white American women to mobilize, network, and expand the scope of their work, as well as leaven their access to professional resources and political power.



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