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Army Nurse Corps History Home > Army Nurse Corps Historical Documentation > Army Nurse Corps Newsletter Historical Articles


As a nation, we recognize the month of February as BlackHistory Month. African Americancontributions to the nation should be recognized not only as black history, butalso as a vital part of American history. Dr.Carter G. Woodson, a black scholar who accepted the challenge of writing BlackAmericans into the nation's history, founded the Association for the Study ofAfrican-American Life. Dr. Woodsonlaunched Black History Week in 1926 as an initiative to bring national attentionto the contributions of black people throughout American history. The Army Nurse Corps shares in the celebration of Black History Month andhonors the legacy of African American Army Nurse Corps Officers.

AfricanAmerican nurses have served throughout our nation's history. During the Civil War, black nurses such as Sojourner Truth, anemancipated slave, worked in Union hospitals caring for the sick and wounded. Similarly, Harriet Tubman, when she was not serving as a laundress, cook,scout, spy or guide for the Union Army, also nursed soldiers. Like all Civil War nurses, Tubman did not receive a pension until 30years after the end of the war. Asmany as 181 black nurses, both female and male, served in convalescent and U.S.government hospitals in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina during the CivilWar.

Duringthe Spanish-American War, African American nurses served as contract nurses.Mrs. Namahyoke Curtis, wife of the Superintendent of the Freedmen's Hospitalin Washington, DC, worked as a contract nurse combating yellow fever and typhoidepidemics that plagued the military during this war. Contracted by the Army, as many as eighty other black womenwere hired to serve as nurses. Thesenurses, who were often erroneously considered 'immune,' handled the worst ofthe epidemics. Many of these nurses actually served in Santiago, Cuba caring forpatients infected during the epidemics. Two of these African American nurses whoserved overseas died from typhoid fever.

Theperformance of nurses during the Spanish American War led to the establishmentof the Army Nurse Corps on 2 February 1901. However, African Americans continued to fight for acceptance as nursesboth in civilian and military venues. Atthe onset of World War I, administrative barriers existed within the Army NurseCorps and the American Red Cross that prevented African American nurses fromjoining the war efforts. Withpolitical and public pressure building for acceptance of African American nursesfor the war cause, plans were made to permit them to apply to the Army NurseCorps. It was not until the last months of World War I, during the influenzaepidemic of 1918, that the Army and the Red Cross began accepting these nurseswho were so willing to serve.

Asthe nursing shortage became critical, the War Department consented to theauthorization of 18 African American nurses into the Nurse Corps. They wereassigned to duty in December 1918 at Camp Sherman, Ohio and Camp Grant,Illinois. One of these pioneeringwomen, Aileen Cole Stewart, served at Camp Sherman, Ohio. The difficulties these nurses experienced did not prevent them fromserving with great honor. Stewart recalled, 'The story of the Negro nurse in WorldWar I is not spectacular. Wearrived after the Armistice was signed, which alone was anticlimactic. But eachof us contributed quietly and with dignity to the idea that justice demandsprofessional equality for all qualified nurses.' Greater than eighteen hundred African-American nurses were certified bythe American Red Cross to serve with the Army Nurse Corps during World War I,yet only a handful were allowed to actually serve. None of those who serve received benefits or pensions as they did notserve in wartime.

AlthoughAfrican American nurses were fully qualified and prepared to serve within themilitary nursing community at the onset of World War II, racial segregation anddiscrimination lingered. Mabel K.Staupers, the executive secretary of the National Association of ColoredGraduate Nurses, lobbied for a change in the discriminatory policies of the ArmyNurse Corps. Recognizing the needfor action, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt urged the army surgeon general torecruit African-American nurses for service in the Army Nurse Corps. While the Army did comply, it did so unwillingly. In 1941, the Army NurseCorps began accepting African American nurses. Due to a quota system, only asmall number, fifty-six, were allowed to join. Slowly, African American nurses pierced the barriers within the militarysystem. By April 1941, forty-eight African American nurses were assigned to CampLivingston, Louisiana and Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Della Raney Jackson, a graduate of Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing inDurham, North Carolina, became the first Black nurse to be commissioned in theU.S. Army. Jackson reported to dutyat Fort Bragg.

WWII Nurses preparing to land in Greenock, Scotland
WWII Nurses preparing to land in Greenock, Scotland
August 15, 1944

ByMay 1943, 183 African American nurses held commissions in the Army Nurse Corps.This represented approximately 0.6% of the total strength of the Army NurseCorps. During World War II, AfricanAmerican nurses served in all theaters of the war including Africa, Burma,Australia, and England. At theconclusion of World War II, approximately 600 African American nurses hadserved. One of these nurses,Margaret E. Bailey, accepted a commission in June 1944. Bailey served in the Army Nurse Corps for 27 years. In 1964, Bailey became the first Black nurse to attain the rank ofLieutenant Colonel. Bailey's promotion to full Colonel in 1970 was also afirst. After an illustrious careerthat took her to numerous assignments around the world, Bailey retired in 1971as a Colonel. In 1972, COL (R)Margaret E. Bailey became a Consultant to the Surgeon General to promoteincreased participation by minority group members in the Army Nurse Corpsrecruitment programs.

Immenseprogress for African American nurses and the Army Nurse Corps marked the end ofWorld War II. Yet, it was not untilJuly 1948 that Executive Order 9981 issued by President Harry S. Trumaneliminated blatant discrimination in the armed forces. Executive Order 9981 states, 'there shall be equality of treatment andopportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color,religion or national origin.'

TheKorean War was a turning point in the reception of African American nurses inthe Army Nurse Corps. The passage of Executive Order 9981 triggered the Army asan organization to eliminate 300 segregated units. African American nurses were finally able to serve inintegrated hospitals in Korea, Japan, Hawaii, and in the continental UnitedStates. African American nursescared for wounded frontline soldiers and combat evacuees without the constraintsof a segregated environment. They did so with great merit.

Amidsta civil rights battle on the home front, African American nurses upheld theirexemplary performance throughout the Vietnam War. African American nurses served in all positions capitalizingon their acceptance within the Corps. InJuly 1970, First Lieutenant (LT) Diane Lindsay received the Soldier's Medalfor heroism during her service in Vietnam. While on duty with the 95th Evacuation Hospital, LT Lindsayassisted in physically restraining a confused patient who was preparing to pulla pin on a grenade within the hospital area. LT Lindsay's actions prevented numerous casualties. LT Lindsay was the first African American nurse to earn this honor.      

Duringthe last three decades, the Army Nurse Corps has been privileged to have threeAfrican American Corps Chiefs. BGHazel W. Johnson, the first African American woman to attain the rank ofGeneral, served as the 16th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps fromSeptember 1979 until August 1983. BGClara L. Adams-Ender served as the 18th Chief of the Army Nurse Corpsfrom September 1987 until August 1991. BGBettye H. Simmons served as the 20th Corps Chief of the Army NurseCorps from 2 December 1995 until 31 January 2000. These trailblazers paved the way for current African AmericanArmy Nurse Corps officers.

Recentyears have seen the missions of the Army nurse expand. Army nurses servethroughout the world in support of armed conflict and humanitarian endeavors.The nurses discussed in this piece are but a handful of the countless AfricanAmerican nurses who have served for the continuance of freedom and libertywithin our borders and abroad. As of September 2002, the Army Nurse Corps has557 African American nurses, which represents eighteen percent of the entireCorps. These nurses serve withgreat distinction and honor. AfricanAmerican Army Nurse Corps officers are assigned to all specialties within theArmy Nurse Corps. They vigilantlycare for the Army's beneficiaries without barrier to race, color, religion,gender or culture. They do so admirably. In recognition of Black History Month,the Army Nurse Corps salutes the African American nurses that have served andthose that currently serve as members of the Corps. Army Nurse Corps: Ready, Caring and Proud!

Historical Data located at the Army Nurse Corps Collection, United States Army, Office of Medical History, Office of the Surgeon General, Falls Church, VA