The Army Nurse Corps


The Army Nurse Corps

A century of service

By Working Nurse
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The Second Continental Congress appointed America’s first military nurses in 1775, but today’s Army Nurse Corps has its origins in the late 1890s.

After the Civil War, most nursing duties at Army hospitals were performed by enlisted hospital stewards. However, the sterling performance of civilian contract nurses during the Spanish-American War of 1898 and the ensuing typhoid and yellow fever epidemics convinced the surgeon general that the Army needed a permanent nursing staff.

The new corps, initially called Nurse Corps (female), was authorized by Congress in 1901. The corps was renamed Army Nurse Corps (ANC) in 1918, but remained all-female until 1955.


Army nurses originally had no formal rank, which proved problematic during World War I. While nurses could theoretically overrule enlisted corpsmen, some corpsmen resisted taking orders from women. In 1920, Congress authorized “relative ranks” for nurses, providing authority and insignia comparable to a commissioned officer’s. Unfortunately, nurses did not initially receive the same pay or benefits — and until 1951 were often saddled with non-nursing duties like housekeeping and custodial work.

In 1944, Congress approved temporary commissions for nurses, providing full benefits until six months after the end of World War II, but it was not until 1947 that Army nurses became permanent commissioned officers. Even then, until 1967 nurses faced restrictions on promotion and could not advance beyond the rank of lieutenant colonel. The first nurse — and first woman — to become a general officer in the U.S. armed forces was ANC Chief Anna Mae Hays, promoted to brigadier general in June 1970.


Whatever their formal status, Army nurses have served with distinction for over a century. Since 1941, more than 1,500 ANC nurses have been decorated for meritorious service or valor and more than two dozen have died in action.

Army nurses have consistently been among the most qualified, best educated in the profession. Today, all active duty Army nurses are RNs with at least a BSN; advanced degrees are common and encouraged. The ANC often leads the way in nursing practice, research and technology.

Although its size has waxed and waned — current strength is more than 11,000, including reserves — the ANC’s importance has only increased. In late 2011, ANC Chief Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho became the first nurse (and first woman) appointed as Army surgeon general, a dramatic sign of nursing’s vital role in the modern Army Medical Department.   

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