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THE EVOLUTION OF MALE
ARMY NURSE CORPS OFFICERS
2nd LT Terry Kuntz, ANC, caring for patient
93rd Evac Hospital
Long Binh, Vietnam, 1968
The passage of time changeseverything and nothing. The Army Nurse Corps as we know it today strives torepresent the values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor,integrity and personal courage. The Army Nurse Corps expresses these values ofthe Army through the motto 'Ready, Caring and Proud.' The growth of the male nurse within the Army NurseCorps identifies with these values. Malenurses have existed in the United States for nearly as long as female nurses. However, the government, the military and the public mostly ignored theirexistence. Their story speaks of aparticular group's resolve to attain professional stature and acceptance whileserving their nation. Unpredictably,male nurses endured inequitable actions much as other minorities have. The following editorial offers a brief synopsis regarding the expansionof the Army Nurse Corps to an all gender organization.
On the 2nd of February1901, the Nurse Corps (female) became a permanent corps of the MedicalDepartment under the Army Reorganization Act passed by Congress. The number of 'charter' members of the Nurse Corps is considered tobe 202, all female. Yet, historicalevidence places male contract nurses on many battlefields throughout the courseof American History. As early as1898, during the Spanish-American War, male nurses served and died as contractnurses in Cuba. Arlington NationalCemetery interment documents confirm the burial of male contract nurses who diedwhile serving their country during the Spanish-American War.
The male nurse actively soughtservice in WWI. A memorandumwritten by the Honorable Charles B. Smith, dated 13 April 1918, relays thepresence of seven male nurses at Base Hospital #25 located somewhere in France. The memorandum states, 'these seven male nurses have the same trainingand hold the same State Diplomas yet they are classed as orderlies and paidabout one half the salary of a female nurse.' The reply, from a colonel in the Medical Corps, 'these men areineligible for appointments as nurses. Underthe present law the Nurse Corps is for women only, the opening sentence being'The Nurse Corps, (female) shall consist of ..'.' Hence, the journey of the male nurse to achieve equal stature within theArmy Nurse Corps would be one fraught with obstacles.
With the inception of the MenNurses' Section of the American Nurses Association in 1940, the efforts tointroduce male nurses into the military escalated. From January 1939 untilDecember 1940, male nurses' organizations throughout the country inundatedgovernment officials with letters. Theseletters raised the question as to the status of male nurses who desired to servetheir country. For those mentrained as nurses, no opportunities existed within the military. The review of the correspondence between various male nurses and theMedical Administrative Corps, the Army Nurse Corps Superintendent, Congressmenand the Surgeon General offers great insight into the enmity that existedbetween these parties.
An excerpt from a letter dated 13June 1940, written by a male nurse and addressed to Franklin D. Roosevelt,President of the United States, provides an insight to the situation thatexisted. The nurse writes, 'It isat a time like this that we feel something should be done about the status ofthe registered men nurses in the Army and Navy Medical Services. We have tried for years to obtain the same relative rating for men nursesas is given to women nurses. Wecannot understand why there should be such discrimination between the twogroups. Men nurses receive the sametraining as the women; are accepted for membership in all the national nursingorganizations and are eligible for registration in every State of the Union. Yet, in spite of equal training, we are not accepted for peace time orwar service.'
The Assistant Surgeon Generalwrote the reply to this particular letter. He states, 'The Surgeon General has made a sincere effort to providepositions in the military service for male nurses who have received satisfactorytraining and also to provide for them a suitable career. You may not be aware of the fact but a Technical Sergeant,which is the second highest-ranking noncommissioned officer grade, is a positionin the Army that has dignity and importance. There is no possibility of the War Department considering relative rankof commissioned officers for male nurses.' He concludes that if male nurses desire to serve their country they willfind the grade provided suitable and adequate. It was apparent that the nation's leaders, facing the Second World War,had little latitude for the male nurse. DuringWWII, male nurses served within the military but only in a restricted nature andnot within the Army Nurse Corps.
For several years following theend of World War II, the battering between the Army Nurse Corps, governmentofficials and male nurses persisted. Atthe onset of the Korean War, the corps remained an all female organization. Yet,the inquiries from the civilian nursing profession, particularly male nurses,provided the leadership of this nation and the military medical organizationlittle respite as those medical service professionals continued the pursuit foracceptance into the ANC. A slowcrumbling of the wall that prevented the commissioning of male nurses into theArmy Nurse Corps is seen in 1949. Correspondence began to have echoes of possibilities for theestablishment of male nurses within the military. On March 29, 1949, a conference was held in the SurgeonGeneral's Office that was attended by representatives of the Army, Navy andAir Force. It was agreed that thepresent Surgeon Generals' of the Armed Forces would recognize that theutilization of qualified and eligible graduate male nurses in the NationalMilitary Establishment was possible. However,no provision of law existed which authorized the commissioning of the malemembers of the nursing profession as such in the Armed Forces.
On the 10th of August 1949, Mrs.Frances P. Bolton introduced legislature H.R. 9398 to provide for theappointment of male citizens as nurses in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Rapidly, a change in the character and nature of correspondence betweensignificant actors of this period can be discerned. Congressmen are rethinking previous stances, military officials areadapting personnel policies, and prominent ANC officers are writing of theprobable admission of male nurses into the Corps. Questions surfaced regarding admission of married men into the NurseCorps, housing of men, the ability of men to accept direction from femalesuperiors, the response of soldiers to male nurses and just exactly how the malenurse would be utilized. Discussions were in progress, statutes were being written,and nevertheless, it would take another six years to realize the actualcommissioning of the ANC's first male officer.
From August 1949 until 1955,government, military and civilian parties debated the commissioning of malenurses. During this time, billswere routinely introduced to Congress. Data supporting the need for an expandedmanpower pool was submitted to the appropriations committee and to the armedservices for expansion of the Army Nurse Corps through the use of the malenurse. After several series of legislature, on August 9th, 1955, PresidentEisenhower signed the Bolton Act, which provided commissions for qualified malenurses in the reserve corps of the armed forces services. Legislation to support this had been before Congress for many years. This legislation came as an indisputable achievement for male nurses andfor the American Nurses Association who vigorously supported them.
After fifty-four years oftradition, the Army Nurse Corps commissioned its first male officer on October 6th,1955. Lieutenant Edward T. Lyonbecame the Army Nurse Corps' first male nurse. The ceiling had been broken. Malenurses quickly proved their worth by serving in airborne units, hospitals,resuscitation teams, and field units throughout the world. Male nurses of yesterday capitalized on the opportunities that thediversity of military service offers. Today, male nurses represent over 35% ofthe Army Nurse Corps. They serve parallel to their female counterparts,exhibiting immense skill, compassion and professionalism; continually upholdingthe core values of the Army. ArmyNurses: Ready, Caring and Proud!
HistoricalData located at the Army Nurse Corps Collection, United States Army, Office ofMedical History, Office of the Surgeon General, Falls Church, VA