Nurses transform to ‘century of caring’ Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 February 2014
By Capt. Angela Green
Special to GUIDON

As nurses, we make up a group of people who show caring and compassion for others daily.  Being a nurse isn’t just what we do but part of who we are.

Being a part of the Army Nurse Corp gives us the opportunity every day, not only to care for others, but to serve our country and care for those who truly deserve the best we have to give.

Nurses have been caring for Soldiers for the past 235 years when the second Continental Congress first authorized medical support. Almost 126 years later, Feb. 2, 1901, under the Army Reorganization Act, the Nurse Corps finally gained recognition as a permanent division of the Army Medical Department.

Col. Marie Dominguez, General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital commander, speaks to guest attending a celebration in honor of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps’ 113th birthday that took place Feb. 2.
Since that time, we have moved forward, improving the care we are able to provide for other Soldiers. Now, the Army Nurse Corps is “Transforming for a New Century of Caring.”

Since the American Revolutionary War began in 1775, a war that has been called The American War of Independence, nurses have played a major role in taking care of wounded Soldiers. During the Civil War from 1861-1865, nurses served both the Union and Confederate armies in the hospitals, oftentimes even caring for Soldiers close to the front and even on the battlefields.

Nurses received Army Contracts

It was during the Spanish-American War, which began in 1868 that nurses were first awarded contracts to the U.S. Army. Because of the excellent performance of these nurses and the care given to the Soldiers, the Army realized what a great asset it would be to have a corp made up of trained nurses who would not only be familiar with the ways of the Army but could be called to active duty when they were needed.

Dressed as a World War II nurse, Col. Kelly Bramley, deputy commander for Nursing and Hospital Services at GLWACH and guest speaker, emphasizes a point to hospital leadership and nurses.
Therefore, on Feb. 2, 1901, the U.S. Army Nurse Corps marks its birth into existence. And on March 25, 1901, Dita Kinney, who had served formerly as a contract nurse, was appointed to be the first official superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps.

In February 1901, there were only 220 nurses on active duty. By 1902, that number was fixed at 100 and remained that for the next decade. When the U.S. entered World War I on April 6, 1917, the number of nurses had increased to 403 nurses who served in Army hospitals in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

In May 1917, six base hospitals with more than 400 nurses set sail en route to France to serve in the British Expeditionary Forces. As the war raged on, the Army saw a need to have more trained nurses and decrease use of nurses’ aides in the hospitals. On May 25, 1918, the Secretary of War authorized the Army School of Nursing which began instruction only two months later. Already under contract as Chief Inspector Nurse for the Army, Annie Goodrich became the first Dean of the Army School of Nursing.

It was not until after World War I that nurses were awarded rank in the military. At that time, in an effort to show appreciation, nurses were awarded “relative rank.” This meant, for example, that a female first lieutenant in the Army received less pay and status than their male counterparts.

However, in recognition of their great contribution to the Army, nurses were awarded many medals including the Distinguished Service Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor. Among those nurses awarded were Jane Jeffery, a Red Cross nurse who was severely wounded during an air raid and refused to abandon her post and continued to help others.

Beatrice MacDonald, was a nurse wounded during an air raid in Belgium at a casualty clearing station and lost sight in her right eye. Eva Parmelee, also wounded in an air raid, continued to serve throughout the emergency. Although during the war, many nurses passed away due to influenza and pneumonia, and many others suffered wartime wounds, none were killed as a result of enemy action.

Recruitment increase in Word War II

In 1942, during World War II, recruitment efforts increased and within six months the Army Nurse Corps had grown to include more than 12,000 nurses. It was during this war that, like their male counterparts, nurses became prisoners of war of the Japanese, sustained casualties from enemy fire at many different places such as Anzio Beachhead, many were killed in flights, and many others spent time behind enemy lines and at concentration camps.

On April 16, 1947, Public Law 36 was approved and passed by the 80th Congress. This law officially  established the Regular Army Nurse Corps Branch in the Army Medical Department. It also established the Army Nurse Corps section of the Officer Reserve Corps and allowed nurses to become members of the Army National Guard and Air Guard. This law also abolished the “relative ranks” and granted nurses permanent ranks and commissions equal to their male counterparts. 

When the U.S. entered the Korean War in 1950, Army nurses were the only women allowed into combat theatre. During April 1965, with the numbers of American troops rapidly increasing in Vietnam, many nurses were deployed to serve in field hospitals. It was during this war, on Nov. 8, 1967, that restrictions on the ranks of the female officers were lifted, and they were given the same consideration as men for promotions. The first nurse in American military history to achieve flag rank was Col. Anna Mae Hayes.  She was the 13th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps and was promoted to brigadier general on June 11, 1970.

First nurse and Army Surgeon General

During the 1970’s, many changes took place in the Nurse Corps. In the Army Reserve Troop Program, ANC strength was increased from approximately 1,900 to more than 5,100 officers in March 1976. In April 1976, the Division of Nursing at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research transferred to the Department of Nursing which became Walter Reed Army Hospital. Just during this past year in 2011, we have seen even more changes take place. With the different branches of the U.S. military joining together, we have seen Walter Reed Army Hospital move to Bethesda, Md., and become Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Also, we have had the privilege to witness the first nurse and female become the Army Surgeon General as Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho was sworn in on Dec. 7, 2011.

Through many wars and times of peace, nurses have honorably served in the Army Nurse Corps. We will continue to grow and give excellent care to our Soldiers for many years to come as we are transforming for a new century of caring.

(Editor’s note: Green is a Nurse at General Leonard Wood Army Community Hospital)
Last Updated ( Thursday, 27 February 2014 )