Army Nursing in World War II - Training and Rank

Since my new World War II novel, With Every Letter (Wings of the Nightingale book 1), features nurses, I'm conducting a blog series on Army Nursing during the war. Last week we looked at requirements to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. Today, we’ll discuss the training the nurses underwent and rank in the Army Nurse Corps. And in the following weeks, I’ll provide details on uniforms and general nursing practices.

Recruitment and Training

The American Red Cross served as the traditional reserve for the Army Nurse Corps. On October 9, 1940, the ANC called the reserves to active duty, to volunteer for a one-year commitment. At first there was no formal military training for nurses. On July 19, 1943, the first basic training center for nurses opened. Training centers were located at Fort Devens, MA; Halloran General Hospital, Staten Island, NY; Camp McCoy, WI; and Brooke General Hospital in San Antonio, TX. The nurses trained for four weeks, learning military courtesy and practices, sanitation, ward management, camouflage, the use of gas masks, and map reading. They also drilled and underwent physical training.

To train the increased number of nurses needed during the war, Congress authorized the Cadet Nurse Corps on July 1, 1943. The government paid for women to attend civilian nursing programs in exchange for service in the Army Nurse Corps upon graduation. The women in this accelerated program (two and a half years instead of three) had their own special cadet uniforms.


Nurses entered the ANC as second lieutenants, and the vast majority stayed at that rank. The chief nurse of a hospital was usually a first lieutenant, but sometimes a second lieutenant or a captain. The highest rank was held by the superintendent of the ANC, a colonel.

Even so, nurses held “relative rank.” They held the title, wore the insignia, were admitted to officers’ clubs, and had the privilege of the salute, but they had limited authority in the line of duty and initially received less pay than men of similar rank. On December 22, 1942, Congress authorized military nurses to receive pay equivalent to a man of the same rank without dependents, and on June 22, 1944, Congress authorized temporary commissions with full pay and privileges.

One of the reasons nurses were granted officer status was to “protect” them from the great crowd of enlisted men, and—it was often believed—for male officers to keep the women for themselves. The Army had rules against fraternization between officers and enlisted personnel.

Flight Nurses

This week I'm also guest blogging on Redwood's Medical Edge about flight nurses in World War II. We'll also be giving away a copy of With Every Letter, so stop by and leave a comment!

Sources: (The official website for Army Nurse Corps history.)
Sarnecky, Mary T. A History of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1999. (A comprehensive history with a thick section on WWII).
Tomblin, Barbara Brooks. G.I. Nightingales: the Army Nurse Corps in World War II. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. (A wonderful history, including all theaters, full of personal stories).

Labels: , ,