Nurses in the Spanish-American War

By TIMOTHY JAMES LAWSON on 4/16/2020

Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place for hundreds of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals who honorably served in the U.S. armed forces or as civilians supporting military missions. Just like the medical professionals on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic today, these heroic individuals worked to provide expert care, comfort and healing, often under dauntingly challenging circumstances. To honor their service—and in conjunction with our new Education Program in development, which includes a unit on nurses in the Spanish-American War —today we highlight nurses buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Section 21 of the cemetery has been nicknamed the “Nurses’ Section” because 653 nurses lay at rest there, under the gentle gaze of an Art Deco monument representing the “Spirit of Nursing.” Dedicated in 1938 and designed by American sculptor Frances Rich, the Nurses’ Memorial honors “devoted service to country and humanity by Army, Navy and Air Force Nurses.” Prominent American nurses buried at Arlington National Cemetery include:

  • Jane Delano: Superintendent of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps from 1909 to 1912 and founder of the American Red Cross Nursing Service, which by the start of World War I had trained more than 8,000 nurses for emergency response. (Section 21, Grave 6)
     
  • Juanita Redmond Hipps: U.S. Army nurse who served in the Philippines during World War II and chronicled her experiences in a bestselling book, “I Served on Bataan.” Reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel, she helped establish the Army Air Corps’ flight nurse program. (Section 21, Grave 769-1)
     
  • Anna Etheridge Hooks: One of only two women to earn the Kearny Cross during the Civil War, Hooks participated in 32 battles and was known for her bravery in removing wounded men from combat. (Section 15, Grave 710)
     
  • Hazel W. Johnson-Brown: The first African American woman general in the U.S. Army, Johnson-Brown became chief of the Army Nurse Corps, at the rank of brigadier general, in 1979. She joined the Army as a nurse in 1955. (Section 60, Grave 9836)

Nurses have played a critical role in every American military conflict, and the nursing profession has historically offered unique opportunities for women to serve in the U.S. armed forces. The Spanish-American War of 1898, in particular, marked a turning point in the United States’ recognition of female nurses’ contributions. During the Civil War, large numbers of Union and Confederate women had volunteered as nurses, and their efforts led to the establishment of hundreds of formal nursing education programs. When the United States went to war against Spain in April 1898, the War Department turned to this pool of trained female labor. For the first time, professionally trained women could serve in the U.S. armed forces as contract nurses, and more than 1,500 women signed up. Stationed in Cuba and the Philippines, they not only treated combat injuries, but also battled against the debilitating tropical diseases (yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever) that afflicted U.S. service members and jeopardized the war effort.

Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, the only woman acting assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army, oversaw the mobilization of nurses during the Spanish-American War. McGee had received her medical degree from Columbian College (now George Washington University) in 1892. When war broke out in April 1898, she created a committee to screen and select nurses for Army contract service. Her efforts, along with contract nurses’ honorable service during the war, directly resulted in the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. Dr. McGee also founded the Society of Spanish-American War Nurses and led the campaign to erect the Spanish-American War Nurses Monument, dedicated in 1905. She is buried in Section 1, Grave 526B.

To learn more about nurses in the Spanish-American War and the accomplishments of nurses buried at Arlington National Cemetery, we invite you to explore the attached materials. These resources are for students of all grade levels, teachers, families and lifelong learners. The first attachment, ANC_Historical Exploration_Nurses in the Spanish-American War, is a compilation of reading materials full of primary sources for lifelong learners (primarily of interest to adults). The second attachment, ANC_Lesson Plan_Nurses in the Spanish-American War, is a simple lesson plan that parents or teachers can use to help students read primary documents about female nurses and the challenging circumstances in which they worked. Instructions are included in the document. This 30-45 minute lesson is for grades 5-10, however it can be adjusted for any grade level. Arlington National Cemetery’s Education Program is currently in development, as it will include primary-source readings, lesson plans for a variety of grade levels and materials for the classroom and at home that will inspire all generations.