Col. Florence Blanchfield, Advocate for Military Nurses

Profiles in Nursing

Col. Florence Blanchfield, Advocate for Military Nurses

Blanchfield fought for full military rank and pay for nurses.

By Suzanne Ridgway
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It was only 60 short years ago that women in the military, including military nurses, did not receive the same rights, privileges, or pay as men of equal rank. This was because, under the laws regulating military pay, “Women were not persons.” (This inequity mirrored women’s salaries in civilian life where the average weekly wage for women factory workers in 1943 was $31.21, compared to men earning $54.65 a week for the same job.)

Florence Aby Blanchfield, Supervisor of the Army Nurse Corps from 1943–1947, fought for full military rank for nurses and is credited with influencing the passage of the Army-Navy Nurse Act of 1947 that allowed female nurses to achieve permanent commissioned officer status in the US. military. At 5 feet one inch tall, she was nicknamed the “Little Colonel” and was known to be a formidable force when working to achieve goals that would benefit the Corps.

Miliary NurseBlanchfield was born in 1882, one of eight children, to a West Virginia stonemason and a nurse. Wanting to follow in her mother’s footsteps, Florence attended the Southside Hospital Training School for Nurses in Pittsburgh and got further training at Johns Hopkins University. She then obtained a wide variety of experiences, both domestically and overseas. She held positions as a superintendent of nursing, an operating room nurse at a hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, and as an industrial nurse at US Steel back in Bessemer, Pennsylvania

The Army Nursing Corps

Blanchfield first joined the Army Nursing Corps at the beginning of World War I and served in France between 1917-1919. Her return to civilian life was brief. After less than a year at a Pennsylvania hospital, she re-enlisted in the Corps in 1920 and spent the next 15 years at various assignments in the US, the Philippines, and China.

She had a reputation for being able to “keep her mind on eight things at once. . . with the memory of a Quiz Kid for facts and figures.” These attributes, plus her extensive nursing and military experience, made her well-suited for the leadership positions that came to her in 1939 when she became Assistant Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps. She became Acting Superintendent in 1942 and Superintendent in 1943.

It was on Blanchfield’s watch that the Corps expanded from 1,000 to a phenomenal 57,000 in response to the critical need for nurses during World War II; 1,600 were decorated for their wartime service. Blanchfield received the Army’s Distinguished Service Medal in June 1945 for her contributions during the War. With the passage of the Army-Navy Nurse Act in 1947 that declared that commissioned nurses would receive all the benefits of military rank, she became US Army Serial Number N-1. General Dwight D. Eisenhower himself conferred the rank of Lieutenant Colonel upon her in a ceremony at the Pentagon.

Blanchfield retired from active duty in 1947 but continued to work as a consultant and author, and helped to develop a program in nursing administration for Army nurses. She received many awards and honors for her lifetime of service, including the Florence Nightingale Medal of the International Red Cross “for exceptional service on behalf of humanity.” She died in Washington, D.C. in 1971 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.

PHOTO AT TOP OF PAGE: Army Lt. Col. Diane Adams, Chief of Women's Health at Blanchfield Army Community Hospital is seated below a painting of Col. Florence A. Blanchfield for whom the hospital is named in Fort Campbell Kentucky, Wednesday, June 27, 2007.

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