FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. -- As the nation celebrates Women's Equality Day, August 26, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital on Fort Campbell, Kentucky stands as a lasting tribute to a trailblazer in Army Medicine and public service.
“Our hospital was named after Col. Florence A. Blanchfield and her story is amazing. She was known and respected for her commitment to the care of Soldiers and transforming the Army Nurse Corps to better serve the nation’s wounded. She reported to the office of the Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps as a captain in 1935 where she had the opportunity to help shape policy, but that was just the beginning of her sentinel achievements for the Army Nurse Corps,” said Col. Patrick T. Birchfield, Blanchfield Army Community Hospital commander.
She joined the Army Nurse Corps as the United States entered World War I and volunteered to serve in France with the American Expeditionary Forces. Since Army nurses did not have rank at that time, she was then known as Miss Blanchfield and assigned to Base Hospital 27 in Angers. It was an eye-opening experience caring for Soldiers during the war. From 1917 to 1919 her unit cared for more than 19,000 patients according to Army records.
Blanchfield thrived in her environment, earning the position of chief nurse and was highly regarded by her male commanders. Army records provide one commander’s evaluation, “She has handled very difficult situations most successfully, is extremely efficient and quite invaluable under existing conditions.”
Not only did she and her nurses care for the Army’s wounded, their service coincided with the influenza pandemic of 1918 that ravaged the globe killing an estimated 50 million people worldwide.
“These nurses were said to have formed the military’s front line in the battle against the pandemic, just as our Army medical teams are doing today in our current pandemic,” said Birchfield.
In 1919 after the first world war ended, Blanchfield and nearly all of the nurses who served at home and abroad during the war returned to their civilian lives. The ranks of the Army Nurse Corps, which had swelled to more than 21,000 nurses during the war, were reduced to 1,500 at that time.
In 1920, the Army Reorganization Act authorized relative rank for Army nurses. The act was passed by Congress in recognition of the outstanding services of Army nurses during World War I. It authorized granting of the status of an officer with relative rank to Army nurses from second lieutenant through major. Although the act allowed Army nurses to wear the insignia of the relative rank, it did not include the same pay, benefits or authority as a male officer of comparable grade.
Still, Blanchfield returned to active duty with her new rank and over the course of 15 years served in a variety of assignments including staff nurse, operating room nurse, nursing instructor and as chief nurse in six Army hospitals. These assignments took her to Army posts in California, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Washington, D.C., China, and twice in the Philippines.
“I’ve had the itinerary of a traveling salesman,” she was quoted as saying, but those experiences prepared her for her next assignment at the Office of the Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps.
There she helped develop training programs for Army nurses to better enable readiness of the corps. In 1939, she was promoted to Assistant Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps as World War II began in Europe. She worked diligently and after a state of national emergency was declared in May of 1941 because of the global threat of war, she helped to recruit thousands of qualified women into the Army Nurse Corps.
In 1943, she became the Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps leading 57,000 nurses during the war as they cared for wounded Soldiers on all fronts.
Superintendent Blanchfield placed nurses near the front lines during combat because “the greatest need for expert nursing is immediately following front-line surgery,” she was quoted saying. She was determined to save lives and told neighsayers, “Don’t let anyone tell you that the combat zone is no place for nurses. It is definitely.”
Yet despite their dedication and service to the Army, Blanchfield and her fellow nurses were still paid at a lower rate than men of the same rank. She lobbied for change. One of her goals was to secure equal benefits for nurses.
She worked with Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton in developing the Army-Navy Nurses Act of 1947 and Public Law 36, enacted in 1947, which established the Regular Army Nurse Corps and Women’s Medical Specialist Corps with permanent commissioned rank and benefits equal to those accorded male officers. She was the first women to receive a Regular Army commission and was the first director with the title “Chief of the Army Nurse Corps".
Today, women in Army Medicine and the U.S. Army continue Blanchfield's efforts by impacting and leading administrative and medical roles. Former Blanchfield Army Community Hospital commander Maj. Gen. Telita Crosland currently serves as Deputy Surgeon General and Deputy Commanding General for Operations, U.S. Army Medical Command. She also serves as the Chief of the Medical Corps.
Regional Health Command Atlantic Commanding General Brig. Gen. Paula Lodi and her sister, Maj. Gen. Maria Barrett, Commanding General of U.S. Army Network Enterprise Technology Command, are the first sisters in the Army to attain the rank of General.
Women currently command half the Army’s Regional Health Commands, responsible for providing combatant commanders with medically ready forces and a ready medical force, conducting health service support in all phases of military operations including COVID-19 response.