July 9, 1947 – First Woman in U.S. History Appointed to Full Military Rank

On this day in history, General Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Florence Blanchfield to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Army.

Lt. Col. Florence Aby Blanchfield (U.S. Army photo)

Blanchfield left a successful private nursing career to enlist in the US Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War I, serving overseas until January, 1919.

She stayed in the Corps, and in 1935, she was assigned to Washington D.C. to the Office of the Superintendent for personnel matters in the corps. She became Assistant Superintendent in 1939, Acting Superintendent in 1942, and served as Superintendent from June 1943 until September 1947.

armynursecorps

During World War II, Blanchfield supervised close to 60,000 nurses at home and abroad, touring military medical facilities around the world. At that time, army nurses were not allowed to marry, and any of those who did get married while in the corps were then discharged. Moreover, as the website Military.com reports:

Of the many thousands of women who served as military nurses during World War II, not one received the same rights, privileges or pay as her male counterparts of equal rank. The comptroller general declared that, under the laws which governed military pay, ‘Women were not persons.'”

The author of the bio on Blanchfield continues:

This did not sit at all well with Lt. Col. Florence Aby Blanchfield, the formidable supervisor of the Army Nurse Corps. While the government may have considered Blanchfield to hold rank in name only, she did not agree. She struggled to achieve full military rank and privileges for herself and all military nurses.”

Blanchfield lobbied Congress about the disparity in treatment, payment and benefits for women in the army. She was instrumental in gaining full rank for nurses, via the Army and Navy Nurse Corps Law of April 16, 1947, which also made the ANC a permanently commissioned Corps.

Blanchfield

For her accomplishments on behalf of the ANC, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945. Blanchfield was also awarded the Florence Nightingale Medal by the International Red Cross (1951) and West Virginia’s Distinguished Service Medal (1963).

Florence Blanchfield died in 1971. Buried with full military honors, she was laid to rest in the nurses’ section of Arlington National Cemetery.

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