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Army Nursing in World War II – Who Could Serve

The US Army Nurse Corps in World War II - part 1 of a 4-part series - who could serve in the ANC?

During World War II, members of the US Army Nurse Corps took care of the sick and wounded throughout the world, often in dangerous and difficult conditions. These brave women inspired four of my novels (A Memory Between Us and the Wings of the Nightingale series), so I’m sharing a four-part series on US Army nursing during the war.

Part 1: Who Could Serve in the US Army Nurse Corps

Part 2: Recruitment, Training, and Military Rank

Part 3: Uniforms

Part 4: General Nursing Practice

During World War II, 57,000 women served in the US Army Nurse Corps (ANC), 11,000 in the US Navy Nurse Corps (NNC), and 6500 in the US Army Air Forces. More than two hundred nurses died serving their country.

Requirements

To serve in the Army Nurse Corps, women had to be 21-40 years old (raised to 45 later in the war), unmarried (married nurses were accepted starting in October 1942), a high school graduate, a graduate of a 3-year nursing training program, licensed in at least one state, a US citizen or a citizen of an Allied country, 5’0”-6’0,” have a physician’s certificate of health and a letter testifying to moral and professional excellence.

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, WWII

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, WWII

Discharge

Pregnancy was the main cause of discharge from the Army Nurse Corps, or as the women called it, PWOP (Pregnant WithOut Permission). To discourage pregnancy, the Army had a cumbersome process to gain approval for marriage. To prevent pregnancy, the Army discouraged drinking, encouraged the women to socialize in groups, and took care with the location of nurses’ quarters. The second main reason for discharge was “neuropsychiatric,” also called combat fatigue (now called post-traumatic stress disorder).

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, 1945

US Army Nurse Corps recruiting poster, 1945

Discrimination

Discrimination based on gender and race was rampant in the 1940s. Male nurses were not allowed in the ANC during World War II, just as female physicians were not admitted to the Medical Corps. In October 1940, a small quota of African-American nurses were admitted to the ANC. Despite a large number of black registered nurses in the United States, fewer than five hundred were allowed to serve, and then only to care for black patients or for prisoners of war. In July 1944, the Army removed this quota limiting the number of black nurses who could serve.

African-American US Army nurse Lt. Florie E. Gant tending a prisoner-of-war patient, England, 7 Oct 1944 (US National Archives)

African-American US Army nurse Lt. Florie E. Gant tending a prisoner-of-war patient, England, 7 Oct 1944 (US National Archives)

Sources:

http://history.amedd.army.mil/ANCWebsite/anchome.html (The official website for Army Nurse Corps history)

Sarnecky, Mary T.A. History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. (A comprehensive history with a thick section on WWII).

Tomblin, Barbara Brooks. G.I. Nightingales: the Army Nurse Corps in World War II. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. (A wonderful history, including all theaters, full of personal stories).

5 Responses to “Army Nursing in World War II – Who Could Serve”

  1. Michael Shay

    Enjoyed this post about nurses in World War II. My mother, an R.N. for 40 years, spoke of her training during the war as a Navy nurse. She said the war ended before she could serve actively but she did graduate from the U.S. Cadet Nurse traing program at Mercy Hospital in Denver. I found her membership cards via ancestry.com on a U.S. government web site. Surprised to know that more than 100,000 women completed the program before it stopped in 1948. Have you written about the Cadet Nurse Corps? I want to read more about it as it apparently paved the way for nursing programs that followed.

    • Sarah Sundin

      Thank you, Michael! Your mother’s experience was normal – since the program started in mid-1943 and it took 2 1/2 years to get through the program, the women didn’t actually serve in the ANC during the war. However, as you said, it did raise up a generation of trained graduate nurses and changed nursing education. I haven’t written anything specifically about this program. I’m thankful for your mother’s service, and I’m so glad you found her card!

  2. Tisha

    The picture of a nurse caring for a POW was interesting. Were nurses allowed to go into prisoner of war camps and tend to the soldiers there, or were the POWs brought to the local hospital or field hospital?

    • Sarah Sundin

      All of the above 🙂 Closer to the front lines, injured/sick POWs were treated at field or evac hospitals, in guarded wards if possible. Obviously, the more critical the patient, the less guarding was required. Farther back, POWs were treated at special POW hospitals (in England, for example), which were well guarded. And stateside POW camps had their own hospitals. Whenever possible, POW doctors and nurses treated their own patients under supervision of Allied personnel, but Allied MDs & RNs also treated POWs.