Naval History and Heritage Command

National Museum of the U.S. Navy

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Pre-WWI

During the Civil War, in 1862, Sisters of the Holy Cross served onboard USS Red Rover, the U.S. Navy's first hospital ship, which was a side-wheel steamer.  The sisters joined the crew and supported medical care.  During the Spanish American War, civilian nurses served onboard USS Solace off the coast of Cuba.  On May 13, 1908, the U.S. Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps.  Esther Voorhees Hasson was the first Superintendent of the "Sacred Twenty" because of her experience on board USS Relief, which was then serving as a hospital ship for the U.S. Army during the Spanish American War.  Acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1902, Relief would join the Great White Fleet in 1908 for its cruise around the world.   The second Superintendent was Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, serving from 1911 to 1922.  USS Higbee (DDR-806, later DD-806), 1945-1979, was named in her honor.  Higbee was the first ship named for a female member of the U.S. Navy.  

The Sacred Twenty were:  Josephine Beatrice Bowman, later the third Superintendent of he Navy Nurse Corps; Sara M. Cox; Clare L. De Ceu; Mary H. Du Bose; Ester Voorhees Hasson, the first Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps; Elizabeth M. Hewitt; Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps; Estelle Hine; Della V. Knight; Elizabeth Leonhardt; Florence T. Milburn; Margaret D. Murray; Sara B. Meyer; Ethel R. Parsons; Adah M. Pendleton; Martha E. Pringle; Isabelle Rose Roy; Boniface T. Small; Elizabeth J. Wells; and Victoria White.

Other Resources:

NMUSN Women in the U.S. Navy Pamphlet

NHHC Women in the U.S. Navy Focus

Image:  NH 92960:   The Sacred Twenty, 1908.   Group photograph of the first Navy Nurses.  NHHC Photograph Collection.