Nurses and the U.S. Navy
Overview and Special Image Selection

In May 1908, after several years' advocacy by the Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, Congress authorized the establishment of a female Nurse Corps within the United States Navy. By October, twenty women had been appointed to the Corps and were preparing for their initial assignments at several naval hospitals.

These nurses, who came to be called "The Sacred Twenty", were the first women to formally serve as members of the Navy. Representatives of one of the few professions then generally open to their gender, and one that had been growing in society's esteem for the previous half-century, Navy Nurses gradually expanded their number to 160 on the eve of World War I. In addition to normal hospital and clinic duties, they were active in training local nurses in U.S. overseas possessions and the Navy's male enlisted medical personnel. A few had seen brief service on board ship.

The April 1917 entry of the United States into the First World War brought a great expansion of the Nurse Corps, both Regular and Reserve. By the time of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, over 1550 nurses had served in Naval hospitals and other facilities at home and abroad, including wartime hospitals in the United Kingdom and France. Shortly after the fighting's end, a few Navy Nurses were assigned to duty aboard transports bringing troops home from Europe.

Nurse Corps' strength contracted to less than five hundred during the peacetime decades, but its duties were extended to include regular service on board Navy hospital ships. Educational opportunities for Navy Nurses were improved, part of a steady rise in their professional status within the service. However, recognition as Commissioned Officers, already achieved by U.S. Army nurses, did not come until World War II. Preparation for that conflict again saw the Nurse Corps grow, with nearly eight hundred members serving on active duty by November 1941, plus over nine hundred inactive reserves.

This page features a special image selection on Nurses and the U.S. Navy up to the eve of World War II, chosen from the more comprehensive coverage presented in the following links

Addional images of this era's Nurse Corps' Superintendents:

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 42354

U.S. Naval Hospital, New Orleans, Louisiana

Hospital Corpsmen irrigating and dressing wounds under a Nurse's supervision, circa 1918.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 87KB; 740 x 615

Photo #: NH 52959

World War I Navy Nurse

With two convalescing U.S. Marines, one of whom has lost his right leg. The other has had his right arm amputated.
She is wearing the indoor duty uniform, with cape.

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

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 85KB; 600 x 765

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.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 89KB; 740 x 590

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.

NHHC Collection

Online Image: 79KB; 740 x 585


For higher resolution images see: Obtaining Photographic Reproductions

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