William A. Rust
September 9, 1862
William A. Rust was a doctor and prominent citizen of South Paris. In September of 1862, he was appointed as an examining surgeon to determine whether men who volunteered to serve in the army were fit for service.
It was up to Dr. Rust to determine what did the government meant to be "able-bodied" to serve in the military in the Civil War.
Rust had little guidance. Neither the Union nor the Confederacy standardized the medical exams that men were to pass after they enlisted or were drafted. Employing some common sense, Dr. Rust considered testing for soundness, eyesight, and dental health.
That was not a standard used by every doctor, and most did not include a nude, full-body examination. That lack led to the successful enlistments by nearly 750 women into the Army, despite the order specifying that only men were to serve.
Based on the medical forms Dr. Rust filled out, he took his duties seriously. He rejected men who could be diagnosed as suffering from chronic tonsillitis, hernias, rheumatism, pulmonary disease, scrofula, dyspepsia, general debility – even old age.
Preparing to begin his work, Dr. Rust writes to Adjutant General John Hodsdon seeking assurance about procedural responsibilities. He informs Hodsdon that the "blanks," the medical examination forms, have yet to arrive, but he is confident that they will be available soon. Using the medical forms, Dr. Rust rejected several men who tried to enlist.
- What physical/medical requirements must be met to join the armed forces today?
- Are any of the reasons for which Dr. Rust rejected enlistees reasons that people would be rejected from the armed forces today?