The Spanish-American War was the first war involving the United States in which nurses were assigned as a special, quasi-military unit. The Society of Spanish-American War Nurses dedicated a monument to the memory of those brave women volunteers who nursed the wounded and sick during the Spanish-American War. Many of the nurses who served and lost their lives during the war are now buried near the monument in Section 21 of Arlington National Cemetery. The Maltese cross, the insignia of the Society of Spanish-American War Nurses, atop the large granite stone is dedicated to the memory of their 'comrades.'
Col. Anita Newcomb McGee, as president of the Society of Spanish-American War Nurses, is credited with directing the efforts to erect the Spanish-American War Nurses monument.
Dr. McGee founded the Army Nurse Corps and was the only woman with the rank of assistant surgeon of the U.S. Army. At the request of the surgeon general, George M. Sternberg, Dr. McGee was given the task of passing upon the qualifications of those who sought appointment as contract nurses in the Spanish-American War. Dr. McGee helped write the bill creating the Army Nurse Corps and also established the Nurses Reserve which proved so valuable in World War I. Dr. McGee was buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in 1940.
Anna E. Turner, a Spanish-American War nurse, who preceded the days of the Army Nurse Corps, died in 1954 and was buried in the Nurses Section. She was first assigned to Fort Monroe, Va., where ships were anchored off Old Point Comfort loaded with sick troops returning from Puerto Rico. Four tents placed together served as a hospital which housed medical equipment consisting of 20 cots, one hand basin, a water pail and dipper, and one bed pan.
In 1899 Miss Turner went to Cuba on a cattle boat with 1,400 men, 720 horses and mules, and nine other nurses. There she spent two years in the yellow-fever hospital in Havana under Gen. William Crawford Gorgas. While there, she caught malaria and was sent back to the United States. However, when Gen. Gorgas went to the Panama Canal Zone, she did too. Miss Turner was aboard the first ship to pass through the canal after it was completed -- a small but satisfying reward for her work.
Another Spanish-American War nurse, Jane Delano, contributed much to the nursing profession. She graduated from Bellevue Hospital in 1886 and returned as superintendent in 1897. In that decade, besides other posts, she served as superintendent of a yellow fever hospital. During the Spanish-American War she joined the Red Cross and became interested in securing nurses for enrollment in the Red Cross Nursing Section. When she was offered the superintendency of the Army Nurse Corps, she accepted, believing that it would bring a closer relationship between the nursing services of the Army and the Red Cross.
Miss Delano devoted herself to reorganizing and improving the Army Nurse Corps and to increasing the pay to attract the best class of nurses. She finished her work by making the Red Cross Nursing Service a reserve of the Army Nurse Corps, then resigned and devoted her time to the Red Cross. There her work was particularly heavy because of the great demand for nurses during the war. On an inspection trip to France, Miss Delano died and was awarded a posthumous Distinguished Service Medal for her work in obtaining and transferring to the Army Nurse Corps 18,732 nurses to serve during World War I.
Miss Turner and Miss Delano exemplify the pioneering spirit and courage of the approximately 653 nurses from all the services who rest under the serried rows of white marble in the Nurses Section of Arlington National Cemetery. The contributions of these nurses is immeasurable and it is fitting that their selfless service should be honored by burial in a place of hallowed memories.
Back to top