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Navy Nurse Corps

Ten women in ten different Navy uniforms line up horizontally

Navy nurses display the variety of nurse corps uniforms authorized in mid to late 1944. Photographed at the Norfolk Naval Hospital, c. 1944–1945 (NHHC, 80-G-K-14446).


Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps (Female) on 13 May 1908. This new group of trained women met the need for a permanent female nurse corps in the Navy and put the service on equal footing with the Army and the civilian medical community.

In November 1908, The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery selected its first crop of 20 nurses, which were dubbed “the Sacred Twenty.” Standards for Navy nurses were high. To be accepted into the Navy Nurse Corps, applicants had to pass a rigorous application and indoctrination program. Applicants had to be graduates of a general hospital training school with at least a two year program and have clinical experience in a hospital. All nurses were subject to an examination of their professional, moral, mental, and physical fitness.

Upon selection, nurses completed three months of orientation and training in naval medicine at the Naval Medical School Hospital in Washington, DC, before being assigned to naval hospitals in Washington, DC; Norfolk, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; and Brooklyn, New York.

Since its inception in 1908, the Navy Nurse Corps has grown to include more than 4,000 active duty and Reserve nurses, both male and female. Navy nurses are stationed around the world at military treatment facilities, medical education institutions, clinics, hospitals, and research units. They serve on combatant ships and deploy in support of combat operations, disaster relief, and humanitarian assistance missions. Nurses work in more than 20 different specialties to provide health care to Navy and Marine Corps personnel and their families.

For more information, read The History of the Navy Nurse Corps, a historical essay by Wendy Arevalo, NHHC Communication and Outreach Division.


Notable Nurses

Documentary Histories

Oral Histories



 Additional Reading

The Sacred Twenty pose in white nursing uniform

Group photograph of the first twenty Navy nurses, at the Naval Hospital, Washington, DC, c. October 1908 (NHHC, NH-52960).

Fifty Navy Nurses in uniform stand on shore next to Marines

Fifty Navy nurses arrive on Guadalcanal, during the summer of 1944. They hold their orders and top coats while they await transportation to their facilities as a number of Marines look on (NHHC, NH-95144).

woman in flight uniform sits on wing of plane

Navy Flight Nurse Jane “Candy” Kendeigh on the wing of a Naval Air Transport Service evacuation aircraft on Okinawa, April 1945. Plane appears to be an R5D. According to original caption, she was the first flight nurse to land on both Iwo Jima and Okinawa (National Archives [NARA], NHHC 80-G-K-5277). 

Male officer in white uniform pins an award on a woman in white nursing uniform as two other nurses stand to her right.

Purple Heart awards are presented to staff nurses attached to U.S. Navy Headquarters Support Activity Hospital, Saigon, South Vietnam. Four nurses were injured in the bombing of the Brink bachelor officers' quarters at on Christmas Eve, 1964. Among those to receive their awards during this ceremony were: left to right: Lieutenant Barbara Wooster, Lieutenant Ruth Mason, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Ann Reynolds (NHHC, NH-93962).

color drawing of a hospital corpsman in uniform standing next to a nurse on a stool who is tending to a man laying down in a contraption with only his head sticking out.

Drawing, Charcoal on Paper; by Carlos Anderson, c. 1943. As this Navy patient's temperature rises to between 105 and 106.5 degrees, the nurse wipes the perspiration from his reddening face, while a fan cools his head. This treatment is used for venereal and certain other diseases. A hospital corpsman takes measures to replace the salt and water lost by perspiration during the treatment (NHHC, 88-159-K).

A male flag officer stands next to a group of smiling women in worn-looking dresses outside of a tent

Navy nurses at Los Baños Internment Camp, Philippines (shown here with Vice Admiral Thomas C. Kinkaid) are among the women liberated on 23 February 1945 after three years of confinement. Left to right: Susie Pitcher, Dorothy Still, Basilia Stewart, Goldie O’Haver, Eldene Paige, Vice Admiral Kinkaid, Mary Chapman, Laura M. Cobb, Maureen Davis, Mary Nelson, Helen Gorzelanski, Bertha Evans, Margaret Nash, Helen Grant, and Edwina Todd. Note: Not all of these women were Navy nurses, some were naval officers’ wives working at the camp and others were members of Allied forces (NHHC, NH-94947). 

Four women and one man help pull another woman into a raft

Navy flight nurses practice how to get an unconscious person into a life raft, at Naval Air Station (NAS) Alameda, California, c. 1944–45. They are being trained in aircraft ditching procedures by Lieutenant H.M. Pickett. Nurses are (left to right): Ensign Patty Freeburger, Ensign Betty Markell, Ensign Norma Harrison, and Lieutenant (j.g.) Stella Makar (victim) (NARA, NHHC 80-G-K-2820).

Two women in white nursing uniforms look on as a Navy doctor in uniform inserts a tube into a patients mouth.

Navy nurses witness a demonstration of intrathecal anesthesia methods by a Navy medical officer at a West Coast naval hospital during World War II (NARA, NHHC 80-G-K-14424).

Published: Fri May 12 14:47:17 EDT 2023