Reconstructing Manhood with Prostheses: The Story of Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett

Historically Speaking

(Image of Daniel Chester French’s bust of William Francis Bartlett courtesy of Harvard University Portrait Collection)

By Moyra Schauffler

Amputation was perhaps the most infamous type of destruction inflicted during the Civil War. It not only left soldiers with ghastly wounds permanently “broken,” it also forced them to return home incomplete men. Injured soldiers’ wounds were evidence of bravery, an important male characteristic, but the after-effects of amputation such as physical imperfection, difficulty moving, and the inability to complete tasks independently interfered with masculinity. With negative implications on an amputee’s ability to fulfill male-gendered expectations such as soldiering, marriage, and earning a living to support family at stake, the prosthesis industry stepped in to reconstruct amputee veterans’ bodies by restoring them to natural symmetry.[1] The case of Brigadier General William Francis Bartlett, who was severely wounded in the leg, survived an above-knee amputation, returned to leading soldiers while wearing…

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