Born in West Virginia, Florence Blanchfield trained as a nurse and joined the Army in 1917. After serving in several theaters of war, she was appointed supervisor of the Army Nurse Corps in 1943. Under Blanchfield's administration the Amry Nurse Corps grew from 1,000 to 60,000 nurses during World War II. Though nurses suffeed casualties, were taken prisoners of war, and were decorated for their wartime service, they were still not afforded all the rights and privileges of regular officers. Blanchfield fought for laws in 1947 that established the Army, Navy and Air Force Nurse Corps on a permanent basis— as well as equal rights and pay. She was the first nurse granted a regular Army commission, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors.
Early Life and Education
Florence Aby Blanchfield was born on April 1, 1884, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. As the head of the Army Nurse Corps, Florence Blanchfield championed women's rights within the military. She fought for her nurses to be granted full rank, which meant they would get the same payment and benefits as their male peers. Before Blanchfield, women had only relative rank. She became the first woman to receive a military commission in the Regular Army in 1947.
Blanchfield attended the public schools of Walnut Springs, Virginia, before being sent to boarding school at the Granda Institute. Initially, she pursued business in college, taking secretarial courses in Pittsburgh, then switched to medicine, enrolling at the South Side Training School for Nurses. After her graduation in 1906, she furthered her studies at several medical institutions, including Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Career in the Army Nurse Corps
Upon completing her advanced training, Florence Blanchfield worked a series of nursing jobs. She even went to Panama in 1913 to work as a nurse on the Panama Canal project. Four years later, Blanchfield joined the Army Nurse Corps. World War I was raging in Europe, and she spent two years in France, helping to tend the wounded. After the war, Blanchfield worked in a number of army hospitals around the world, including in the Philippines and in China.
In the 1930s, Blanchfield went to work for the Office of the Superintendent at the Army Nurse Corps. She became the assistant to Superintendent Julia Flikke in 1939 and was promoted to captain. When Flikke retired in the mid-1940s, Blanchfield took over her post. She then became as a colonel of relative rank, which meant she received the benefits and pay of a lower rank than her own.
During World War II, Blanchfield supervised close to 60,000 nurses at home and abroad. She toured military medical facilities around the world. Perhaps one of her greatest challenges was finding nurses for the corps. Army nurses were not allowed to marry, and any of those who did get married while in the corps were then discharged.
Blanchfield took her concerns about the disparity in payment and benefits for women in the army to Congress. She fought for full rank for herself and her nurses and won the battle in 1944, albeit on a temporary basis. In 1947, the Army and Navy Nurse Corps Law gave female nurses full rank permanently. General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave Blanchfield her Army commission that same year, making her the first woman to receive that honor.
Not long after getting her commission, Blanchfield decided to retire from the Army Nurse Corps after 30 years of service. She settled in Arlington, Virginia, where she devoted herself to her hobbies. Blanchfield wrote two histories of the Army Nurse Corps, but they were never published.
Florence Blanchfield died on May 12, 1971, at the Walter Reade Hospital in Washington, D.C. Buried with full military honors, she was laid to rest in the nurses' section of Arlington National Cemetery. The memory of her tireless efforts on behalf of her patients and staff lives on. In 1982, the army named a hospital at Fort Campbell in Kentucky after her, marking the first time a nurse had received such an honor.
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