Nurses and the U.S. Navy, 1919-1941



By the early 1920s, with post-World War I Naval reductions largely complete, Navy Nurse Corps' strength stood at about 500, a level it held for over a decade. Most Reserve Nurses had gone back to Civilian life, though a few were recalled in 1920 to care for influenza patients. In that year, Congress authorized "relative" rank for the Army's nurses, but not for the Navy's. Though generally treated like officers socially and professionally, and wearing uniform stripes similar to those for the officer ranks of Ensign through Lieutenant Commander, Navy Nurses had to wait until 1942 to achieve formal officer status.

Navy Nursing made several professional gains between the World Wars. The first permanent shipboard positions came in late 1920, when USS Relief (AH-1) went into commission with a medical staff that included Navy Nurses. Paid retirement for longevity and disability was authorized. Continuing education was actively encouraged, including specialized training in dietetics, laboratory techniques, anesthesia, tuberculosis treatment and physiotherapy. As before, Navy Nurses were responsible for much of the instruction given to the Navy's hospital corpsmen and to local nurses in U.S. overseas possessions. In addition to caring for Naval personnel at home and abroad, they responded to a number of civil disasters and assisted in the evacuation of dependents from war-torn China in 1937.

Leadership of the Nurse Corps changed in 1922, when long-time Superintendent Lenah Higbee was relieved by J. Beatrice Bowman, who held the position for well over a decade. By the time Superintendent Bowman retired in 1935, she was the last of the original "Sacred Twenty" Navy Nurses on active duty. Her replacement was Myn M. Hoffman, who served into 1938. In 1939, Sue S. Dauser became Superintendent, remaining in that post throughout the Second World War.

The lingering Great Depression ultimately brought reductions to Navy personnel strength. Its nurses were reduced to fewer than 350 by the mid-1930s and did not rise above 500 until the 1940-41 defense increases were well underway. However, from then on the Nurse Corps' growth was swift, with over 800 regular and reserve nurses on active duty on the eve of United States' entry into World War II.

This page features views related to nurses and the United States Navy between the World Wars

Additional images Nurses and the U.S. Navy, 1919-1941 - Nurses' Uniforms

Pictorial coverage Nurses and the U.S. Navy - Overview and Special Image Selection.

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


Click photograph for a larger image.

Photo #: 80-WP-958

"Convalescent Patients at a Naval Hospital"


Poster from the "What the Navy is Doing" series, published by the Navy Recruiting Bureau, New York, circa 1919.
Text below the pictures reads: "The above views were taken at one of our Naval Hospitals, which has adopted a method of keeping convalescent patients occupied and thus relieving the monotony of this inactive period. The men are taught to make various articles, such as rugs, leather purses and knotted belts. These articles are sold and the proceeds given to the men. Special attention is paid to those maimed during the war, who are being trained to care for themselves in spite of their injuries."

Photograph from the Collections of the U.S. National Archives

Online Image: 104KB; 740 x 615

 
Photo #: NH 53046

USS Relief (AH-1)


Nurses with their patients, on deck in March 1921.

U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Online Image: 82KB; 740 x 585

 
Photo #: NH 53047

USS Relief (AH-1)


Some of her nursing staff, March 1921.
Principal Chief Nurse J. Beatrice Bowman is standing in the center, 4th from right.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 89KB; 740 x 590

 
Photo #: NH 95294

Attendees at a reception for Dame Maud McCarthy, Washington, D.C., 14 March 1924


Photographed following the reception.
Those present are (in front, left to right):
Mrs. Clara G. Noyes, Chairman, Red Cross Nursing Service; and
Dame Maud McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief, British Territorial Nursing Service.
Those standing in the rear are (from left to right):
J. Beatrice Bowman, Superintendent, U.S. Navy Nurse Corps;
Mrs. Mary A. Hickey, Nursing Service, Veterans Bureau;
Mabel Boardman, Secretary, American Red Cross;
Lucy Minnegrode, Superintendent, Public Health Nursing Service;
Mrs. Eliott Wadsworth, Wife of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury; and
Major Julia Stimpson, Superintendent, U.S. Army Nurse Corps.

Collection of Lieutenant Commander J. Beatrice Bowman, USN(NC).

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 76KB; 740 x 600

 
Photo #: NH 52974

Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.


Members of the Hospital's nursing staff, 1926, in ward uniforms as regulated by the Secretary of the Navy in 1924.

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

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 97KB; 740 x 610

 
Photo #: NH 42368

U.S. Naval Hospital, Great Lakes, Illinois


Officers, nurses and enlisted men of the Hospital staff, circa 1924-1927.
Captain Ammen C. Farenholt, USN(MC), Hospital Commanding Officer, is seated in the front row, center.

Collection of Rear Admiral Ammen C. Farenholt.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 88KB; 740 x 325

 
Photo #: NH 97242

U.S. Naval Hospital, Puget Sound, Bremerton, Washington


The hospital's nursing staff posed in front of the hospital, circa July 1931.
Those present are (from left to right): Nurses Mins, Vanderlinden, Anderson, Harkness, Harriet Harris, Farrell, Ballerstedt, Sawin, Quinn, Jones, Howard, and Krook; Chief Nurse Sue S. Dauser.

Collection of Ensign Harriet Harris, USN(NC).

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 101KB; 740 x 575

 
Photo #: NH 97243

U.S. Naval Hospital, Puget Sound, Bremerton, Washington


The hospital's nursing staff, circa July 1931.
Those present are (from left to right, seated): Vanderlinden, Mins, Anderson, Chief Nurse Sue S. Dauser, Krook, Sawin and Harriet Harris.
(from left to right, standing): Jones, Ballerstedt, Quinn, Harkness, Farrell, Howard.

Collection of Ensign Harriet Harris, USN(NC).

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 107KB; 740 x 575

 
Photo #: NH 82747

U.S. Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C.


Ward scene during the 1930s, with a Navy doctor, nurse and corpsman attending to a patient.

Donated by the Nursing Division, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, 1974.

U.S. Naval History & Heritage Command Photograph

Online Image: 79KB; 740 x 585

 


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions





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