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The Evolution of Male Army Nurse Corps Officers

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2nd LT Terry Kuntz, ANC, caring for patient
2nd LT Terry Kuntz, ANC, caring for patient
93rd Evac Hospital
Long Binh, Vietnam, 1968

The passage of time changes everything and nothing. The Army Nurse Corps as we know it today strives to represent the values of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. The Army Nurse Corps expresses these values of the Army through the motto "Ready, Caring and Proud." The growth of the male nurse within the Army Nurse Corps identifies with these values. Male nurses have existed in the United States for nearly as long as female nurses. However, the government, the military and the public mostly ignored their existence. Their story speaks of a particular group's resolve to attain professional stature and acceptance while serving their nation. Unpredictably, male nurses endured inequitable actions much as other minorities have. The following editorial offers a brief synopsis regarding the expansion of the Army Nurse Corps to an all gender organization.

On the 2nd of February 1901, the Nurse Corps (female) became a permanent corps of the Medical Department under the Army Reorganization Act passed by Congress. The number of "charter" members of the Nurse Corps is considered to be 202, all female. Yet, historical evidence places male contract nurses on many battlefields throughout the course of American History. As early as 1898, during the Spanish-American War, male nurses served and died as contract nurses in Cuba. Arlington National Cemetery interment documents confirm the burial of male contract nurses who died while serving their country during the Spanish-American War.

The male nurse actively sought service in WWI. A memorandum written by the Honorable Charles B. Smith, dated 13 April 1918, relays the presence of seven male nurses at Base Hospital #25 located somewhere in France. The memorandum states, "these seven male nurses have the same training and hold the same State Diplomas yet they are classed as orderlies and paid about one half the salary of a female nurse." The reply, from a colonel in the Medical Corps, "these men are ineligible for appointments as nurses. Under the present law the Nurse Corps is for women only, the opening sentence being "The Nurse Corps, (female) shall consist of .."." Hence, the journey of the male nurse to achieve equal stature within the Army Nurse Corps would be one fraught with obstacles.

With the inception of the Men Nurses' Section of the American Nurses Association in 1940, the efforts to introduce male nurses into the military escalated. From January 1939 until December 1940, male nurses' organizations throughout the country inundated government officials with letters. These letters raised the question as to the status of male nurses who desired to serve their country. For those men trained as nurses, no opportunities existed within the military. The review of the correspondence between various male nurses and the Medical Administrative Corps, the Army Nurse Corps Superintendent, Congressmen and the Surgeon General offers great insight into the enmity that existed between these parties.

An excerpt from a letter dated 13 June 1940, written by a male nurse and addressed to Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, provides an insight to the situation that existed. The nurse writes, "It is at a time like this that we feel something should be done about the status of the registered men nurses in the Army and Navy Medical Services. We have tried for years to obtain the same relative rating for men nurses as is given to women nurses. We cannot understand why there should be such discrimination between the two groups. Men nurses receive the same training as the women; are accepted for membership in all the national nursing organizations and are eligible for registration in every State of the Union. Yet, in spite of equal training, we are not accepted for peace time or war service."

The Assistant Surgeon General wrote the reply to this particular letter. He states, "The Surgeon General has made a sincere effort to provide positions in the military service for male nurses who have received satisfactory training and also to provide for them a suitable career. You may not be aware of the fact but a Technical Sergeant, which is the second highest-ranking noncommissioned officer grade, is a position in the Army that has dignity and importance. There is no possibility of the War Department considering relative rank of commissioned officers for male nurses." He concludes that if male nurses desire to serve their country they will find the grade provided suitable and adequate. It was apparent that the nation's leaders, facing the Second World War, had little latitude for the male nurse. During WWII, male nurses served within the military but only in a restricted nature and not within the Army Nurse Corps.

For several years following the end of World War II, the battering between the Army Nurse Corps, government officials and male nurses persisted. At the onset of the Korean War, the corps remained an all female organization. Yet, the inquiries from the civilian nursing profession, particularly male nurses, provided the leadership of this nation and the military medical organization little respite as those medical service professionals continued the pursuit for acceptance into the ANC. A slow crumbling of the wall that prevented the commissioning of male nurses into the Army Nurse Corps is seen in 1949. Correspondence began to have echoes of possibilities for the establishment of male nurses within the military. On March 29, 1949, a conference was held in the Surgeon General's Office that was attended by representatives of the Army, Navy and Air Force. It was agreed that the present Surgeon Generals' of the Armed Forces would recognize that the utilization of qualified and eligible graduate male nurses in the National Military Establishment was possible. However, no provision of law existed which authorized the commissioning of the male members of the nursing profession as such in the Armed Forces.

On the 10th of August 1949, Mrs. Frances P. Bolton introduced legislature H.R. 9398 to provide for the appointment of male citizens as nurses in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Rapidly, a change in the character and nature of correspondence between significant actors of this period can be discerned. Congressmen are rethinking previous stances, military officials are adapting personnel policies, and prominent ANC officers are writing of the probable admission of male nurses into the Corps. Questions surfaced regarding admission of married men into the Nurse Corps, housing of men, the ability of men to accept direction from female superiors, the response of soldiers to male nurses and just exactly how the male nurse would be utilized. Discussions were in progress, statutes were being written, and nevertheless, it would take another six years to realize the actual commissioning of the ANC's first male officer.

From August 1949 until 1955, government, military and civilian parties debated the commissioning of male nurses. During this time, bills were routinely introduced to Congress. Data supporting the need for an expanded manpower pool was submitted to the appropriations committee and to the armed services for expansion of the Army Nurse Corps through the use of the male nurse. After several series of legislature, on August 9th, 1955, President Eisenhower signed the Bolton Act, which provided commissions for qualified male nurses in the reserve corps of the armed forces services. Legislation to support this had been before Congress for many years. This legislation came as an indisputable achievement for male nurses and for the American Nurses Association who vigorously supported them.

After fifty-four years of tradition, the Army Nurse Corps commissioned its first male officer on October 6th, 1955. Lieutenant Edward T. Lyon became the Army Nurse Corps' first male nurse. The ceiling had been broken. Male nurses quickly proved their worth by serving in airborne units, hospitals, resuscitation teams, and field units throughout the world. Male nurses of yesterday capitalized on the opportunities that the diversity of military service offers. Today, male nurses represent over 35% of the Army Nurse Corps. They serve parallel to their female counterparts, exhibiting immense skill, compassion and professionalism; continually upholding the core values of the Army. Army Nurses: Ready, Caring and Proud!

Historical Data located at the Army Nurse Corps Collection, United States Army, Office of Medical History, Office of the Surgeon General, Falls Church, VA