Spanish-American War Nurses Monument


The Spanish-American War (1898) was the first U.S. war in which nurses comprised a dedicated, quasi-military unit, and the first time in U.S. history that nurses were fully accepted in military hospitals. Although no nurses were killed in combat, 153 died from diseases during the war (including one, Clara Maass, who perished from yellow fever after volunteering to undergo Army experiments on that disease). 

Nurses in the Spanish-American War worked 14-hour shifts with 20-minute lunch breaks. They provided their own uniforms, which they had to launder and maintain. Duties included dressing wounds, administering medicine, giving ice baths, preparing and serving food, and attempting to maintain sanitary conditions in tents, fields and overcrowded buildings. Many locations experienced nurse shortages, and some nurses worked until they were too ill to continue. The pay was $30 per month plus railroad fare to the assigned location, meals and sometimes lodging. 

The Society of Spanish-American War Nurses dedicated a monument to the memory of those brave women volunteers who nursed the wounded and sick during this brief but historically important conflict. The large granite monument features a Maltese cross, the Society's insignia. Many of the nurses who served and lost their lives in the war are buried near the monument in Section 21 — sometimes called the "Nurses Section" because it contains the gravesites of hundreds of nurses who served during conflicts throughout U.S. history.

Some Notable Spanish-American War Nurses Buried Nearby

  • Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, as president of the Society of Spanish-American War Nurses, led efforts to erect the Spanish-American War Nurses monument. Dr. McGee studied in England, Switzerland and the United States, receiving her medical degree from Columbian College (now part of the George Washington University). After establishing a private medical practice in Washington, D.C., she also advocated for the Daughters of the American Revolution Hospital Corps, which prepared volunteer nurses to work for the Army and Navy. During the Spanish-American War, she petitioned Army Surgeon General Dr. George M. Sternberg to allow only qualified women to be stationed at base hospitals. Dr. Sternberg subsequently appointed her as acting assistant surgeon of the U.S. Army, which granted her jurisdiction over the Army Nurse Corps. 

    Dr. McGee became the only woman permitted to wear an officer's uniform during the Spanish-American War. She raised the standards for nursing in the military and, defying social norms, paved the way for future female doctors, nurses and military service members. After her death on October 5, 1940, Dr. McGee was buried in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. 

  • Anna E. Turner was first assigned to Fort Monroe, Virginia, where ships brought sick troops from Puerto Rico. Four tents placed together served as a hospital, and medical equipment consisted of 20 cots, a water pail and dipper, one hand basin and one bed pan. In 1899, Turner traveled to Cuba on a cattle boat with some 1,400 men, 720 horses and mules and nine other nurses. There, she spent two years working at a Havana yellow fever hospital under General William Crawford Gorgas. She was sent back to the United States after catching malaria, but she soon returned to her work, accompanying Gen. Gorgas to the Panama Canal Zone. Turner was aboard the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal after it opened in August 1914. She died in 1954.

  • Jane Delano graduated from the Bellevue Training School for Nurses in 1886, served as superintendent of a yellow fever hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, and then returned to Bellevue as superintendent in 1897. During the Spanish-American War, Delano joined the Red Cross and recruited other nurses to the Red Cross Nursing Section. From 1909 through 1912, she served as superintendent of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She also conceived the plan for the American Red Cross Nursing Service — which, under her leadership, became the reserve nursing unit for the Army, Navy and Public Health Service. On April 15, 1919, Delano passed away at the age of 57, while inspecting base hospitals in France. Her last words were reportedly, "What about my work, I must get back to my work." The Army awarded Delano a posthumous Distinguished Service Medal, and she was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. 

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