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Meet Anna Mae Hays The Nurse Who Became America’s First Female General

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Adelani Temiloluwa
School Of Nursing Ondo
Nursing Student
300Level, Nigeria.

Not long after the June 1970 ceremony during which General William C. Westmoreland pinned stars on her uniform, making her the first woman in the U.S. Armed Forces to attain the rank of brigadier general—and subjecting her to what Time magazine called a “brassy” kiss on the mouth—Anna Mae Hays climbed into a car with a single destination in mind: the Army officers’ club. Up to that day, female officers had been tacitly expected to use a side entrance, and in her former rank of colonel, Hays had acquiesced. This time, according to an account in the Lancet, General Hays directed the driver to drop her at the front, and it was through the front door that she entered.



No female officer—the story goes—would ever use the side entrance again.

Hays, who died in January at age 97, was a career officer in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. Her breakthrough ascent to become America’s first female general officer—and her championing of gender equality—reminds us that women in traditionally “feminine” occupations have done as much to advance gender equity as those who pushed their way into male domains. Just as flight attendants took on regulations governing their looks, age and marital status, or telephone operators braved bombings and fires in France during the Great War, nurses like Hays changed notions about what women can achieve and the treatment they are entitled to, displaying quiet radicalism along with competence and courage.

It is no exaggeration to say that nurses paved the way for the hard-fought acceptance of women in the U.S. military. The fact that we now have female Army rangers is due in part to the civilian nurses who, for 25 cents a day, bandaged wounds in the Army commanded by George Washington, and to women like Clara Barton and Dorothea Dix, who advanced the practice of military nursing during the Civil War. War by war, nurses proved that women could endure blood, privation, sniper fire, terrifying journeys and exposure to exotic disease—and that survival rates improved enormously thanks to their care and presence. Decades before women were permitted to be sailors, Navy nurses proved that women had a place aboard ships.

But at no time did nurses do more to prove their value than during World War II, when Hays, a nurse from Allentown, Pennsylvania, went to the local police station and took her oath of office. She joined an Army Nurse Corps that would comprise nearly 60,000 women during the Second World War, which remains the largest, most violent war in recorded human history, one that necessitated the proximity of medical staff to men making landings and invasions.

In the European and North African theaters, nurses worked very close to the front lines, according to historian Judith A. Bellafaire. The “chain of evacuation” began with mobile field hospitals—tents set up close to the fighting—where wounds could be evaluated, triage performed, operations carried out and evacuations begun. Nurses were basically embedded with the troops and traveled with them; during the invasion of North Africa, the women clambered down ladders from their transport vessel into small assault boats, and the invasion of Sicily saw nurses huddled in trenches and foxholes as they were pounded by German dive bombers. In Normandy, nurses with packs on their backs landed on the beachhead four days after D-Day.

Assembling and disassembling the field hospitals, they accompanied Allied troops chasing the Germans through France. They treated Holocaust survivors, and the thousands of men wounded during the Battle of the Bulge. Whenever patients had to be evacuated, nurses accompanied them on hospital trains, planes and ships, which sometimes endured bombings, crashes and sinkings. Army flight nurses were so adept that there were only five deaths in flight per 100,000 patients. Seventeen flight nurses lost their own lives in the war, according to Bellafaire.

At age 22, Hays was sent toward the Pacific, which lacked the supplies and equipment of the European theater; she later observed that it was “sadly neglected” and that “we did the very best we could.” In guarded jungle hospitals, Pacific nurses received horrific casualties from Okinawa, Guam, Saipan and Tinian Island, and treated burns from kamikaze attacks on oil tankers. In the vast ocean, with multiday sea battles, amphibious landings, and attacks from planes and suicide boats, Navy flight nurses had to pass rigorous tests for swimming and towing bodies. Nor were nurses immune from air assaults; when the hospital ship USS Comfort was attacked off Leyte Island, six nurses were killed and four were wounded.

By January 1943, Hays found herself in Ledo, Assam, part of a brutal but neglected theater—China, Burma and India—where she joined a group treating American and Chinese troops using the Ledo Road to transport military supplies to the Chinese Nationalist Army fighting Japan. There, she scraped caked mud and cleaned lice off wounded bodies, before the severing of limbs could begin. “I can vividly remember the many amputations of extremities due to gas gangrene,” she later recalled in an Army oral history. “I, as a 22-, 23-year-old girl, was very upset because of the many amputations.”

But an even greater problem was diseases like malaria and typhus, which afflicted not only patients but staff. “It seemed that most everyone had bacillary or amoebic dysentery, dengue fever or malaria,” she remembered. Living in bamboo quarters, she became accustomed to burning leeches off her skin. Describing the time a cobra was found under her bed—a guard shot it—she remarked, “When one lives in the jungle, one can expect that sort of thing.”

Hays spent 2½ years there, was promoted to first lieutenant—in 1944, Army and Navy nurses were allowed full officer status—and decided to make military nursing her career. When war broke out in Korea, Hays was part of the massive initial invasion. “We were the first hospital to set up in Inchon, and then move in toward Seoul,” she remembered, saying that conditions were worse than during World War II, because of the lack of supplies, and the cold.

During a stint in the States, she encountered President Dwight D. Eisenhower when she helped treat him during a prolonged stay for intestinal surgery. Ike listened sympathetically to Army nurses on the topics of retirement, rotation and living conditions; Hays became lifelong friends with the general and his wife, Mamie. On September 1, 1967, Hays was sworn in as the 13th chief of the Army Nurse Corps. During her tenure, she pushed for fairer promotion, urged maternity leave and helped end the practice of discharging married officers who became pregnant. She challenged regulations that evaluated female nurse applicants based on the age of their dependent children. “The nurses felt they were really becoming part of the Army structure, which I thought was very important,” Hays later said.

The day she received her promotion to brigadier general, so did Elizabeth P. Hoisington, director of the Women’s Army Corps. That a nurse got her stars before a regular female soldier might have been happenstance; it might have been alphabetical order. But given all that nurses have done to pioneer the place of women in the military, it seemed fitting.
Source : https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2018/12/30/anna-mae-hays-americas-first-female-general-223420

Meet Anna Mae Hays The Nurse Who Became America’s First Female General  - Nurses Arena

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