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 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.
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.
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).
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.
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).