Profiles In Nursing

Jane Delano (1862-1919), Champion of the American Red Cross Nursing Service

Recruiting and training nurses to serve in war and peace

Jane Delano wearing a nursing uniform and cap with the red cross on it on the left. On the right, a group of Red Cross volunteers pose together

Jane Arminda Delano found her calling as a nurse and a volunteer with the American Red Cross, helping to recruit thousands of nurse volunteers for World War I and to bring desperately needed healthcare to rural America.

Yellow Fever

Born in Townsend, N.Y., in 1862, Jane Delano was the descendant of an English colonial family and the daughter of a Union soldier who died of yellow fever during the Civil War. Delano attended a Baptist boarding school, and in her 20s, moved to New York City to attend Bellevue Hospital Training School for Nurses.

She later said her reason for becoming a nurse was nothing “romantic or sentimental,” declaring simply, “I think the nurse’s profession is a fine one, and I like it.” Upon graduating in 1886, Delano dove into her role as a nurse, moving to Jacksonville, Fla., to treat patients with yellow fever, the same disease that had killed her father during the war.

She instituted innovative ideas such as putting mosquito nets around patients and window screens in the sleeping quarters. (At the time, it hadn’t yet been proven that mosquitoes carry disease.) Delano then moved to Brisbee, Ariz., where she treated copper miners suffering from typhoid fever. After three years in Arizona, she moved back East, where she accepted a position as superintendent at a nursing school in Pennsylvania.

The Army Nurse Corps

In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain over Cuba and other Spanish possessions in the New World. The Spanish-American War was the first major U.S. conflict in which American nurses were assembled as a unit. It was also the initial time the American Red Cross mobilized to aid the sick and wounded. During the conflict, Delano served as secretary of enrollment for the Red Cross’s New York chapter.

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In 1902, Delano and several of her colleagues joined the reserves of the new Army Nurse Corps. Recognizing the importance of training and preparing nurses for wars and natural disasters, Delano became superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps in 1909.

The recruitment and enrollment programs she initiated helped the corps — which had been on the verge of disbanding following the Spanish-American War — to later recruit the 21,480 Army nurses who served in World War I. During this same period, Delano was also president of the board of the American Journal of Nursing; president of the Associated Alumnae, forerunner of the American Nurses Association; and chairman of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service. Her work helped to make nursing a recognized and respected part of the healthcare field.

Serving During War and Peace

In 1912, Delano decided to give her full attention to the American Red Cross, with the goal of establishing a national reserve of Red Cross nurses who could support both the military nurse corps and the U.S. Public Health Service. She traveled across the country, speaking, promoting and inspiring nurses to volunteer for the Red Cross.

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These efforts proved prescient when the U.S. entered World War I five years later. By 1917, the Red Cross nursing reserve was about 8,000-strong, a number that would more than double by war’s end. The Red Cross played a pivotal role during the war, sending medical supplies, doctors and nurses to aid military and civilian causalities both overseas and in the U.S.

Delano’s earlier rural assignments had her helped realize the urgent need for healthcare and health education in all communities. To that end, she established the Red Cross Town and Country Nursing Service (later called the American National Red Cross Public Health Nursing Service) to serve rural populations. Delano also developed curriculum and cowrote textbooks for Red Cross courses on home healthcare and hygiene.

Burial at Arlington Cemetery

In 1919, following the Armistice that ended World War I, Delano traveled to France to inspect hospital bases that had been used during the war and to battle Spanish Influenza, which had killed an estimated 22 million people.

During her trip, she contracted mastoiditis, a complication of acute otitis media in which the infection spreads to the mastoid bone behind the ear. Although she underwent surgery, she died shortly afterward at the age of 73. Even on her deathbed, her main concern was getting “back to my work.”

Although she was originally buried in Savenay, France, her body now lies in the Nurses’ Corner of Arlington National Cemetery, where a bronze memorial is dedicated “To Jane A. Delano and the 296 nurses who died in the War — 1917–1918.”

She posthumously received the Distinguished Service Medal and in 1982 was inducted into the ANA Hall of Fame.

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