U.S. Navy Nurses 1908-1917

With the 13 May 1908 Congressional approval of a Navy Nurse Corps, the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery moved to implement the legislation and bring aboard the Navy's first female nurses. Applicants were required to be graduate nurses with at least two years' formal training, plus relevant clinical experience. On 8 August 1908, Esther Vorhees Hasson, who had previously served as an Army Nurse, was appointed as the Nurse Corps' first Superintendent. She, and the nineteen others of the first Navy Nurse contingent, received their initial orientation at the Navy Medical School in Washington, DC.

In March 1909, the first twenty Navy Nurses were sent on their first operational assignments: to Naval Hospitals at Washington, DC.; Portsmouth, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; and Brooklyn, New York. One nurse at each station was appointed as Chief Nurse, with additional responsibilities and pay. By the end of the year, seventeen more nurses had joined the Corps and the Mare Island Naval Hospital, in California, had received its first women Navy Nurses.

Over the next several years, the Corps expanded to a strength of 160 and Navy Nurses were assigned to additional Navy hospitals within the Continental United States and overseas, with the latter including Pearl Harbor, Hawaii; Canacao, Philippine Islands; Yokohama, Japan; Guam; Samoa; Cuba and the Virgin Islands. In addition to normal nursing duties, Navy Nurses worked in medical specialty fields, and provided training and supervision for enlisted hospital apprentices and native nurses. In 1911, Superintendent Hasson was relieved by Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee. For a few months in 1913, Navy Nurses saw their first shipboard service, aboard USS Mayflower and USS Dolphin.

In 1914, after the outbreak of World War I in Europe, two Navy Nurses requested discharges, joined the American Red Cross and traveled to the war zone to attend to military casualties. Both returned to the U.S. in 1915 and reentered the Navy. Their experience, and that of other Red Cross Nurses who served in Europe and on the Mexican Border, would gain considerable relevance when the United States entered the "Great War" in April 1917.

This page features views related to nurses and the United States Navy from the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps to U.S. entry into World War I.

Additional images Nurses and the U.S. Navy - Overview & Special Image Selection

Photographic album containing many photographs related to Navy Nurses during this period, see J. Beatrice Bowman Photo Album, circa 1908-1915.

Images of this era's Nurse Corps' Superintendents and individual Navy Nurses

Click photograph for a larger image.

Photo #: NH 52960

"The Sacred Twenty"

Group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses, appointed in 1908. Taken at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C., circa October 1908.
They are identified in Photo # NH 52960 (Complete Caption).

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 99KB; 740 x 575

Photo #: NH 52970

Navy Nurses

At the U.S. Naval Hospital, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 1914.
They are wearing the indoor duty uniform.

Courtesy of the Nursing Division, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, September 1962.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 150KB; 740 x 610

Photo #: NH 52973

Navy Nurses

With an officer and a civilian, at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Norfolk, Virignia, 1914.
Nurse in the front row, immediately to the right of the civilian, is Chief Nurse Elizabeth Leonhardt.

Courtesy of the Nursing Division, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, September 1962.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 99KB; 740 x 615


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

About Us | Privacy Policy | Webmaster | FOIA request | Navy.mil | This is a US Navy website