Capt. Sue Sophia Dauser, RN (1888-1972)

Profiles in Nursing

Capt. Sue Sophia Dauser, RN (1888-1972)

Distinguished Service

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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She was a local girl, but rose to great heights in our nation’s military. Born in Anaheim, Calif., on Sept. 20, 1888, Dauser eventually became the first female captain in the U.S. Navy, serving as superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.

Dauser earned her nursing degree from California Hospital School of Nursing in 1914. She remained there until 1917, serving as a surgical supervisor. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, she joined the naval reserve. By October, she was on active duty, training at the Naval Hospital in San Diego. Shortly after that, she was promoted to chief nurse and put in charge of Base Hospital No. 3, which mobilized in Philadelphia.

In August 1918, Dauser and the nurses in her charge left for Liverpool, England, on the HMS Mandingo. From there, she went on to Edinburgh, Scotland, where her nurses cared for both British and American forces. From the end of the war in 1918 until 1939, Dauser’s assignments took her to every naval station on the West Coast, as well as Guam and the Philippines. In addition to serving in shore hospitals, she served on ships and was at the bedside of President Warren G. Harding when he died in San Francisco in 1923.

In 1939, Dauser was appointed superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps. With another major war looming, her task was to prepare and enlarge the Navy’s nursing corps. She also worked to obtain equal rank and privileges for Navy nurses, who at that time were treated as officers, but received neither the same pay nor the same benefits and were not legally considered either commissioned officers or enlisted personnel.

At the start of the war, the Navy had only 600 nurses, but by the end of the war in 1945, the Nurse Corps had a strength of 11,000, all volunteers. Thanks in part to Dauser’s efforts, in 1942, Congress authorized full officer’s commissions and equal pay for Navy nurses. While Dauser was superintendent, the Corps also admitted its first black nurse, Ensign Phyllis Daley.

In 1945, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal presented Dauser with the Distinguished Service Medal, the first navy nurse to earn that honor. Forrestal said of Dauser, “Her constant devotion to duty reflects the highest credit upon herself, her command and the United States Naval Service.”

Capt. Sue Dauser retired in 1946. She died in Anaheim on March 8, 1972, at the age of 83.  

This article is from workingnurse.com.

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