World War I nurse Mary E. Sheehan of Tully, New York, c. 1917.
The existence of nurses in the United States Armed Forces goes all the back to the Continental Army and the Revolutionary War. General George Washington requested Congress to provide nurses for the sick and wounded. During the Spanish-American War, the military realized the need for a permanent reserve of trained army nurses. In 1901, Congress created the Army Nurse Corps in which army nurses served for three-year periods. Initially, army nurses were not given officer status, but as a result of their service in World War 1, the military later changed this policy.
During World War 1, the Army Nurse Corps provided nurses for both the British and American Expeditionary Forces. Many army nurses serving in World War 1 were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross which ranks second only to the Medal of Honor. Even though these women served their country nobly and achieved officer status, they still received less pay than equally ranked men in the army.
Mary E. Sheehan was a First Lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps. She served twenty-five years in the army and retired in 1934. According to her obituary in The American Journal of Nursing, Sheehan never missed a day of work and was known for her good judgment and attentiveness. She served in the Philippines, the American Expeditionary Force, and across the United States. She was Chief Nurse at the Vichy Hospital Center in France during World War I and received the Distinguished Service Medal for her work. The obituary goes on to estimate that Sheehan contributed to the successful care of eleven thousand sick and wounded while stationed in France.
How do women contribute to the solving of national issues?
Check for Understanding
Describe the woman in the photograph and explain her contribution to World War I.
Research the role of nurses in another American war. What titles were they given? What awards were they eligible to receive? How did their pay compare to their male counterparts? How did they contribute to the success of the war?
English Language Arts: Write a letter home to your family about your work as a World War I Army Corps nurse. Describe your experiences and your view of the war.
Art: Design a poster or brochure to persuade nursing students to join the Army Nurse Corps when they graduate.