Sarah Sundin: WWII Nursing Part 2/3

We’re continuing our three part series with historical author Sarah Sundin about her research into WWII nursing. You can find Part I here.

US Army Nursing in World War II—Part 2

wwii-nursingRuth hugged her knees to her chest, her dark blue cape tented around her against the gray chill.

            Where would the money come from? Promotions were meager in the Army Nurse Corps. All the nurses were second lieutenants except the chief nurse, a first lieutenant. At twenty-three, Ruth was too young and inexperienced to become a chief nurse.

            She’d always solved her own problems, but now she longed for advice, and she kept thinking about Major Novak.

In my World War II novel, A Memory Between Us, the heroine, Lt. Ruth Doherty serves as a US Army Nurse in England. The amount of research seemed daunting, but I found fantastic resources, read intriguing real-life accounts, and gathered fascinating facts about nursing in World War II.

On November 24th, I covered requirements to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. Today I’ll discuss the training the nurses underwent and rank in the Army Nurse Corps. And on November 29th, I’ll provide some details on uniforms, nursing practices, and a list of my favorite resources.

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

***This blog originally posted 11/26/2010.***

*********************************************************************************************sarahsundin2Sarah Sundin is the author of the Wings of Glory series from Revell: A Distant Melody (March 2010), A Memory Between Us (September 2010), and Blue Skies Tomorrow (August 2011). She has a doctorate in pharmacy from UC San Francisco and works on-call as a hospital pharmacist.

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