As part of Women's History Month, we remember the first women who reached the rank of brigadier general--Anna Mae Hays, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, and Elizabeth Hoisington, who at the time was Director of the Women's Army Corps, were promoted to brigadier general in the same ceremony in June 1970.
Our focus today is on Hays, who served in three wars, rubbed elbows with Presidents, and helped change policies that increased service and career opportunities for women in the Nurse Corps and the Army.
When Hays joined the Army in 1942 she knew she was signing up "for the duration" of the war. Hays would retire as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps and America's first female general officer.
(Sidebar: in the promotion ceremony Hays received her star first, so technically she was first, but only by a few minutes).
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hays joined the Army Nurse Corps. "I joined during World War II," she said. "The papers were full of stories about individuals serving their country. I, too, wanted to serve my country."
In January 1943, she deployed to Ledo, Assam, India, with the 20th General Hospital. The hospital was at the beginning of the Ledo Road, which was hacked through the jungles into Burma; the mission was to provide care for American Soldiers building the route to China. During her 2 and one-half years there, the hospital cared for more than 49,000 patients.
Hays worked in the operating room; both working and living conditions were primitive.
By the end of the war, Hays was a 1st Lieutenant and decided to remain on active duty.
Soon, there was war in Korea, and Hays mobilized with the 4th Field Hospital, landing at Inchon.
The 4th saw more than 25,000 patients between September 1950 and July 1951. Bitter cold, a lack of supplies, and operating rooms in constant use were routine. By that time, Hays remembered that the medical advancements since World War II included antibiotics, availability of whole blood, and rapid evacuation with the use of helicopters.
Hays recalled the evacuation from Inchon in the face of Chinese and North Korean advances. "We had to evacuate in February of 1951 to Taegu," she said. "I can remember traveling south from Inchon to Taegu by train in the middle of the night -- not knowing when a railroad trestle would be blown up."
In 1956, Anna Mae reported for duty as head nurse of the ER at Walter Reed in Washington, DC. In June, President Eisenhower was hospitalized there, and Hays served as one of three private nurses for him.
By 1963, Hays was a lieutenant colonel and assigned to the Office of the Chief of the Army Nurses Corps and in September 1963 became the Assistant Chief.
In July 1967, Hays was promoted to colonel and, in September 1967, was sworn in as the 13th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps.
During the Vietnam War, Hays travelled to Vietnam three times to assess the quality of nursing there.
Hays spent four years at chief of the Nurse Corps. She directed that new training programs be developed and oversaw a dramatic increase in the number of nurses deployed overseas. During her tenure, there also were a number of changes for women in the Army.
In November 1967, President Lyndon Johnson signed Public Law 90-130 at the White House with Hays in attendance. The law removed barriers to promotion for female service members and opened the door for women to reach the rank of general officer.
In the following years, Hays' recommendations led to reforms in personnel policies. In January 1970, changes in Army regulations ended the practice of automatically discharging married officers who became pregnant.
In July 1971, Policy AR 601-139 removed the restriction on the age of dependents of female nurses seeking appointment in the Army Nurse Corps Reserve. Regulations were also changed to allow for commissary and post privileges for spouses of female service members.
Hays worked to make the Nurse Corps a more effective organization. She focused on increasing educational opportunities, recruiting even more qualified nurses, and enforcing tougher standards for nursing. She also worked to include more nurses in the Army's decision-making process.
Hay's commitment to nursing increased the prestige and professionalism of the Nurse Corps and contributed to a growing respect for nurses and women in the Army and across the nation.
In June 1970, Hays--along with Hoisington--was promoted to brigadier general, and they became the first women in the U.S. Armed Forces to wear the stars on their shoulders.
In her remarks, Hays said that the stars "reflect the dedicated, selfless, and often heroic efforts of Army nurses throughout the world since 1901 in time of peace and war."
Hays retired in August 1971. We recognize her outstanding work, her commitment to service, and duty in three wars--a claim that few can make.
(Adapted from "Embracing the Past: First Chief, Army Nurse Corps Turns 90!" The U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History.)