History of Women in the USPHS



Contributed by LTJG Samantha Spindel and LT Chitra Mahadevan

During WWII, women between the ages of 20-50 were recruited to participate in the Armed Forces as well as in the U.S. Public Health Service and the Red Cross to assist with the war effort. At that time, women’s roles were limited to working with other women and they rarely had an opportunity to supervise men. To address the critical shortage of nurses during WWII, Congress passed the Nurse Training Act of 1943, which created a uniformed Cadet Nurse Corps (formerly the “Victory Nurse Corps”) within the USPHS.

In 1944, the Public Health Service act was passed which allowed females to be commissioned. Above is CAPT Lisa Hogan, BOP Director of Nursing, on a Florida deployment.

In 1944, the Public Health Service act was passed which allowed females to be commissioned. Above is CAPT Lisa Hogan, BOP Director of Nursing, on a Florida deployment.

Nurse Training Act of 1943 and the Implications for Women

Under this act, 124,000 women between the ages of 17 and 35 received free, expedited nursing education lasting 24-to-30 months. In exchange for their education, they served in the USPHS for the duration of the war. Upon the insistence of then first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, the Cadet Nurse Corps was amended to prevent racial discrimination. As a result, approximately 3,240 minorities joined the service as nurses.

Women and the Public Health Service Act

In 1944, The Public Health Service Act was passed, reinforcing the militarization of the USPHS and allowing females who held other scientific professions to join. The USPHS awarded more opportunities to women than other service branches did. For example, a woman who was a physician and could fly planes would need to choose one of the two professions in the Armed Forces, but could serve a dual role in the USPHS. Prior to 1944, USPHS nurses had their own uniform, which comprised a skirt and belted jacket. Female personnel who were not nurses wore civilian clothes. The first uniforms worn by all females in 1944 were identical to those worn by the Coast Guard, except for the insignia, which was distinctive to USPHS.

Source: JOAG Journal
Used with permission of the Junior Officer Advisory Group

Page Last Modified on 2/3/2014