Influential Nurses of World War II

By: Nichole Moyer

When the war began with the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, recruitment for nurses to join the military had already begun. In 1940, as the second world war loomed in Americas future, the American Nurses association, along with other nursing organizations, formed the Nursing Council for National Defense. This group worked with the American Red Cross to coordinate a recruitment campaign and contact nurses about serving in the military (Egenes, K.) Recruitment efforts also included advertisements in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and filmstrips (Jackson, 2000). Julia Stimson, who was named superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and first Dean of the Army School of Nursing, served as a recruiter for military nurses. She proved to be an essential part in the effort by traveling to cities across the country encouraging young women to serve (Egenes). In They Called Them Angels, Jackson writes about how even First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt aided in recruitment efforts (Jackson, 2000).

Although the demand for nurses had grown exponentially and the availability could not meet the need, there were still several requirements for nurses joining the military. Nurses that applied for service had to be citizens of the United States. They also had to be graduates of an approved nursing school and registered nurses. At the start of the war, nurses had to be between the ages of 21 and 40 but the age was later raised to 45. In the beginning, nurses also had to be single but by 1942, married nurses were also recruited (Jackson, 2000).

The military accepted very few black nurses during World War II. In 1941, Della Raney Jackson became the first black nurse to be commissioned to the U.S. Army as a lieutenant. She was promoted to chief nurse in 1942, captain in 1945, and major in 1946. Major Jackson was honored by the Tuskegee Airmen for her “outstanding leadership, service, professionalism, and for her historic achievements that personify the “Tuskegee Spirit”.” Susan Elizabeth Freeman served as the Chief Nurse in the first overseas unit of black nurses. Freeman joined the Army in 1941 and was quickly promoted to first lieutenant. She later became the first black nurse to be promoted to captain. In (Carnegie, 1986).

Francis Payne Bolton, in collaboration with the National Nursing Council, created a bill passed by Congress that provided funding for nursing education for national defense. Shortly thereafter, The Bolton Act of 1942 lead to the formation of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. This act was designed for nurses to quickly meet the challenges of military nursing by decreasing the length of education for nurses from 36 months to 30 months. It had an influence on nursing education and standards and also revoked rules that discriminated against gender, race, ethnicity, and marital status (Egenes).

Nurses received 1,619 medals, citations, and commendations for serving in World War II. Annie Fox was the first of many Army nurses to receive a purple heart and a bronze star. Fox was serving as First Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps at Hickam Field at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. She received the awards for her fine example of calmness, courage, and leadership, which was of great benefit to the morale of all she came in contact with.” (Bellafaire)

The list of distinguished nurses from World War II exceeds that which can be put into one article. There are countless pieces devoted to commemorating the accomplishments of nurses and the integral part they played in national defense during wartime. By the end of the war, 215 nurses died while serving for the United States. Nurses were serving closer to the front lines than ever before and their courageous efforts can be compared to that of nurses in more modern day wars (Klainberg). Upon their return to civilian life, many nurses took advantage of educational opportunities available due to the G.I. Bill of Rights (Bellafaire). World War II provided nurses with skills that allowed them to advance professionally as individuals, which in turn lead to advancement of the nursing profession as a whole.


Bellafaire, J.A. (2003) The Army Nurse Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service. Retrieved from

Carnegie. M.E. (1986) Blacks in Nursing 1854-1984: The Path We Tread. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott Company

Egenes, K. History of Nursing: Chapter 1. [PDF]. Retrieved from

Jackson, K. (2000) They Called Them Angels: American Military Nurses of World War II. [DX Reader Version]. Retrieved from

Klainberg, M. (2010) A Historical Overview of Nursing: Chapter 2In M. Klainberg & K. Dirschel (Eds.), Today’s Nursing Leader (pp 29-39). Retrieved from


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