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Embracing the Past: First Chief, Army Nurse Corps Turns 90!
Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

Army Nurse Corps History

Embracing the Past: First Chief, Army Nurse Corps Turns 90!

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays
(Sources: Mary T. Sarnecky and Heritage of Leadership: Army Nurse Corps Biographies [2004].)

Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays was born in New York to parents who were Salvation Army officers. Anna Mae was the second of three children. Religion, music, and a spirit of service were guiding lights in the McCabe household.

2 Months Old??? 2 Months Old?????Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays?

Anna Mae McCabe at two months old (left); In Fulton, NY, in 1921 (center); and, with her sister and brother (right).

The nature of the elder McCabes' calling required that the family of five move several times. They lived in western New York and eastern Pennsylvania, and then settled in Allentown, PA in 1932. Anna Mae was a gifted musician as a child, playing piano in church and the French horn in the school band. She also had a strong drive to help others. In 1937, Hays graduated from high school with honors and continued her education at the Allentown General Hospital School of Nursing. In 1941, Anna Mae graduated with a diploma in nursing and began her career at Allentown Hospital.

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe HaysBrigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

Anna Mae as a student in 1931 (left)
and as a young woman (right)

Like thousands of nurses of her generation, Anna Mae enrolled in the American Red Cross following graduation. After Pearl Harbor, she was approached by a representative of the 20th General Hospital, University of Pennsylvania unit, and a sense of duty and patriotic fervor inspired Hays to join the Army Nurse Corps.
Anna Mae entered active duty early in 1942 and traveled by train with her unit to a staging area, Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Her musical talents were well-appreciated and she played piano at weekly church services. Life in the unit was busy. The nurses worked mornings in the station hospital, drilled and studied military subjects in the afternoons, and socialized in the evenings.

In January 1943, Hays' unit was deployed to Ledo, Assam, India, 1,000 miles north of Calcutta. The unit was situated at the entrance to the famous Ledo Road that cut through the jungles into Burma. Their mission was to provide care to American soldiers who were building an overland communication route to China. At the same time, American soldiers were fighting the Japanese in Burma and flying supplies over the Himalayan Mountains to Chinese forces. Anna Mae was assigned to the operating room and later described primitive living and working conditions, including bamboo structures, monsoon weather, dysentery, and snakes. During her 2 l/2 years there, the hospital took care of more than 49,000 patients.

In April 1945, Anna Mae was promoted to first lieutenant. After the war ended, she elected to remain on active duty in the Army Nurse Corps. She was assigned to Tilton General Hospital at Fort Dix, New Jersey, and worked twelve-hour days, six days a week, as operating room supervisor and later as head nurse on several medical and surgical wards. On 22 January 1947, Anna Mae was unexpectedly summoned to the commander’s office and, to her surprise, was promoted to captain.

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

Nurse Anna Mae McCabe

The next ten years were busy ones for Anna Mae, as her talents were recognized and she was assigned to challenging duties. Her organizational skills led to a position as obstetrics supervisor at Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. She enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania to learn the latest techniques in the care of premature infants. In 1950, Anna Mae was selected to attend Columbia University but her plans were disrupted when hostilities broke out in Korea. She mobilized with the 4th Field Hospital at Fort Benning, Georgia, and on 15 September 1950, she participated in the notorious Inchon Landing.

The 4th Field Hospital cared for more than 25,000 patients between September 1950 and July 1951, one night receiving 700 patients. In the bitter cold and with insufficient supplies, the operating rooms were in constant use. In many ways, Korea was far worse than anything Anna Mae had experienced in India, but she recognized the medical advancements that had been made since World War II: antibiotics, whole blood, and rapid evacuation, made possible by the use of helicopters.

In April 1951, McCabe was transferred to the surgical ward of Tokyo Army Hospital to evaluate personnel, supplies, and facilities management systems and recommend ways to improve patient care. That role evolved into today’s Nursing Methods Analyst. In April 1952, Anna Mae was transferred to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, as an obstetric and pediatric supervisor. Her academic abilities were once again recognized when she was sent to the Nursing Service Administration Course at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where she graduated first in her class.

In May 1956, Anna Mae reported for duty as head nurse of the Emergency Room at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC. In June, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was hospitalized there for 23 days when he suffered an ileitis attack. McCabe was one of three private nurses selected to take care of Eisenhower, and she formed a close bond with the President that lasted until his death in 1969.

In 1957, Anna Mae Hays was selected to attend Columbia University Teacher’s College to follow through on the earlier offer that had been interrupted by the Korean War. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing education and was assigned to the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research as head nurse of the Radioisotope Clinic. However, she disliked working with isotopes and missed working with patients. After almost two years, she was reassigned as a supervisor, a position she held for seven months before receiving orders to deploy to Europe. With her mother in failing health, Anna Mae requested a shorter, 13-month tour in Korea, which was granted. In October 1960, she became Chief Nurse of the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Pusan.

In early 1962, Hays returned to service at Walter Reed as a supervisor and became one of two nurses to complete the U.S. Army Management School at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. This marked the first time nurses were sent to a military school outside the Medical Department. Another milestone was realized by Anna Mae when she was promoted to lieutenant colonel at a time when most nurses were retiring as majors.

Anna Mae’s wedding portrait, 1956.
Anna Mae McCabe married in July 1956.
Sadly, her husband died in 1962.

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

In May 1963, Colonel Margaret Harper, the Nurse Corps Chief, assigned Lieutenant Colonel Hays to her office, affording Hays a unique opportunity to gain firsthand experience in the Corps’ operations. Anna Mae worked relentlessly on one of Harper’s priorities, mandatory issuance of uniforms to Army nurses. In September 1963, Harper retired and Colonel Mildred Irene Clark became the Corps’ 12th Chief. She selected Anna Mae to be Assistant Chief.

When the Vietnam conflict escalated in 1965, Hays was sent there to assess the nursing situation. With increased requirements and a 2,000-nurse shortfall, the first priority was to recruit qualified nurses. Clark and Hays worked tirelessly on this issue and on the establishment of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing (WRAIN) Program. In 1966, Anna Mae began graduate studies in nursing service administration at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. The following July, she was promoted to colonel by the Army Surgeon General, Lieutenant General Heaton. In August, Hays graduated with a Master of Science in nursing.


Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe HaysBrigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe HaysBrigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

From left: as Second Lieutenant, Captain, and Major


Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe HaysBrigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe HaysBrigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

From left, as Lieutenant Colonel, Colonel, and Brigadier General

Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays was sworn in as the 13th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps on 1 September 1967. Lieutenant General Heaton officiated at the ceremony, which was attended by Colonels Blanchfield, Bryant, Haynes, and Clark. Hays served as ANC Chief until 31 August 1971.

Hays’ four-year tenure as ANC Chief was a time of both turmoil and great strides. In November 1967, President Lyndon Johnson signed Public Law 90-130 at the White House with Colonel Hays in attendance. The law removed barriers to promotion for female service members and opened the door for general officer grade. Her first action as ANC Chief was to develop long-range priorities for the Corps through a strategic planning conference with Chief Nurses at hospitals. The feedback from this conference inspired Hays to focus on clinical practice, professional development, and retention of officers.

Having served on the front lines in two wars, Hays was the right person to lead the ANC during four more years in Vietnam. In 1967, the number of nurses deployed to Southeast Asia grew dramatically. In January 1968, the Tet Offensive ushered in the year with the greatest number of casualties in the Vietnam War. Addressing the need for nurses, Hays made her second of three visits to the war zone. She recognized the need for improved recruitment strategy for the nursing force and increased the number assigned to the Recruiting Command, ensuring a presence in every nursing school in the country. By her retirement in 1971, there were 40 nurse counselors in the Recruiting Command.

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

Anna Mae Hays with President
Dwight David Eisenhower

With more than 40 percent of nurses assigned overseas, Anna Mae Hays turned her energies toward increasing influential assignments in stateside hospitals. She placed officers in carefully selected, highly visible positions, ensuring nursing input in decision making at all levels within the Army Medical Department. In 1970, the first female social aide assigned to the White House was an Army nurse. Hays understood the importance of professional oversight of medical courses for enlisted personnel and placed more nurses in the role of instructors. She also increased the number of courses that were required to meet nursing standards. The heavy workload in her office led to the creation of the position of Assistant to the Corps Chief, a precursor to the later Corps Fellow position.

Hays also guided change in organizational structure that created the Department of Nursing within Army hospitals. She validated requirements for postgraduate preparation for more than 600 positions and supervised the creation of six clinical and two administrative short courses. Significantly, the first Army-sponsored graduate program in anesthesiology nursing was opened in September 1969 at the University of Hawaii.

Colonel Hays’ recommendations to Surgeon General Hal B. Jennings led to groundbreaking reforms in personnel policies. In January 1970, Army regulations were changed to waive automatic discharge for 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. In addition, regulations were changed to allow for commissary and post privileges for spouses of female service members.

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

Brigadier General Anna Mae Hays (left),
Brigadier General Elizabeth
P. Hoisington (right), with Mrs. Dwight D.
Eisenhower on their promotion day,
11 June 1970

On 11 June 1970, Colonel Anna Mae Hays was promoted to the grade of general and became the first woman in the United States Armed Forces to wear the insignia of a brigadier general.  Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland and Secretary of the Army Stanley C. Resor officiated at the ceremony.  Army Surgeon General Hal B. Jennings pinned the stars on Hays' uniform. Former ANC Corps Chiefs Colonels Ruby F. Bryant, Inez Haynes, and Mildred I. Clark, attended the ceremony. Mrs. Mamie Eisenhower, members of Congress, DACOWITS officials, civilian and military nursing leaders, and Hays' brother and sister also were present. The new general's remarks following the promotion acknowledged her indebtedness to a host of benefactors. She expressed her view 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.” She quoted Albert Einstein's words as her philosophy of service to her country: “I must remind myself a hundred times each day that what I am I owe to the lives of other men,… and that I must exert myself in order that I may give in the same manner that I receive.”

A global wave of publicity in national and international broadcast and print media, variously positive, negative, and/or humorous, heralded the Army's action and Hays' achievement. A political cartoonist sketched two enlisted men sitting in a bar. One quipped to the other, “Well, we've got everything, Sarge—the atomic bomb, guided missiles, the M–16 rifle, and now two lady generals.” Hays received more than a thousand pieces of correspondence acknowledging her promotion, some of which were quite amusing. A missive from Germany was addressed to “Mrs. Brigade General Anna Mae Hays, Chief of the Feminine Army Sanitary Corps.” On one occasion, General William Westmoreland's wife, Kitsy, remarked to Hays, “I wish you would get married again.” When Hays inquired why, Westmoreland responded, “I want some man to learn what it's like to be married to a general.”


Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland (left) and
Army Surgeon General Hal B. Jennings (right) pinning the
Brigadier General stars on Anna Mae Hays, 11 June 1970

Many of the initiatives Anna Mae Hays began before her promotion came to fruition toward the end of her tenure and after her retirement. Through her leadership, the percentage of baccalaureate-prepared Army nurses rose from 11 to 42 percent. She was the driving force behind the creation of the Army Nursing Contemporary Practice Program, which ultimately led to the development of advanced practice roles. Hays created the Corps’ Career Planning Branch in the Office of the Surgeon General and was adamant about following up on her predecessors’ work to promote the establishment of the baccalaureate degree as the entry-level criterion for Army appointments. This goal was achieved for regular Army appointments in 1972, one year after her retirement.

In the spring of 1971, General Hays was named Army Nurse Corps Officer of the Year and was presented with the Anita Newcomb McGee Award by the Daughters of the American Revolution. Having served 15 months as a general officer, Hays retired after her four-year tenure as Corps Chief on 31 August.  Army Chief of Staff General William C. Westmoreland officiated at the ceremony and awarded her the Distinguished Service Medal. A reception was held at the Pentagon in her honor.

Brigadier General Hays retired to her home in Arlington, Virginia. For many years, she spent four to five months in Marbella, Spain. In retirement, she maintained some involvement in Army Nurse Corps affairs but added other activities and interests in professional circles, hometown issues, her condominium association, and an array of retiree groups.

Anna Mae McCabe Hays led the Army Nurse Corps through one of its most stressful eras. She did so with grace and wisdom and her illustrious career was groundbreaking and visionary. Despite her many accomplishments, she is humble, almost uncomfortable when speaking about herself. She is a dignified and gracious woman who prefers to focus on the accomplishments of others. She once said that she would like to be remembered as a fair and honest leader who led by example and expected nothing less than one’s best effort, yet was always concerned for the welfare of her subordinates. She believes that great leaders inspire others to follow. The sources of her inspiration were those around her, especially her father, Daniel McCabe, President Eisenhower, and Lieutenant General Heaton.

Brigadier General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays

Brigadier General Anna Mae V.
McCabe Hays at her desk on the day
of her retirement, 31 August, 1971

General Hays is a leader and a woman of many firsts. During a career that spanned three wars and culminated in her promotion to brigadier general, she was at the forefront of groundbreaking changes in personnel policies and nursing practice that are today taken for granted. Through her efforts, some of the inequities once endured by female service members were abolished. She worked toward laying the groundwork for modern nursing practice. Hays’ accomplishments and passion for nursing have inspired many and serve as the model of a successful Corps career. In the words of Florence Nightingale, “To be a good nurse, one must be an improving woman.” General Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays is certainly all of that and more.

We, the Army Nurse Corps, are so proud of you and your accomplishments, BG Hays. Happy 90th Birthday and we wish you many more!