Black Nurses Serving in the Military During World War II


nurses were highly qualified to serve within the military community at the beginning of World War II. Although, they were qualified they were constantly discriminated against. Mabel K. Staupers, the executive secretary of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, lobbied for a change in the discriminatory policies of the Army Nurse Corps.

Later, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt also saw the need to make changes and urged the army surgeon general to recruit African-American nurses for service in the Army Nurse Corps. The Army did comply but did not want to do it willingly. In 1941, the Army Nurse Corps began accepting African American nurses. Due to a quota system, only a small number, fifty-six, were allowed to join.

By April of 1941 there were forty-eight nurses assigned to Camp Livingston, Louisiana and in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The number of black nurses tripled by May of 1943. During World War II, African American nurses served in all theaters of the war including Africa, Burma, Australia, and England. The first black medical unit to deploy overseas was the 25th Station Hospital Unit, which contained thirty nurses. The unit went to Liberia in 1943 to care for U.S. troops protecting strategic airfields and rubber plantations. Malaria was the most serious health problem the troops encountered. The nurses wore helmets and carried full packs containing musette bags, gas masks, and canteen belts. The Red Cross arm bands and lack of weapons distinguished them from those who were actually fighting troops.

In July 1948 the Executive Order 9981 was issued by President Harry S. Truman which prevented blatant discrimination in the armed forces. Executive Order 9981 states, “there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.” By the end of World War II, approximately 600 African American nurses had served.




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