STORIES FROM THE REGISTER – APRIL 2023
Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, Acting Assistant Surgeon General of the Army, “We Also Served” Charter Member, Spanish American War
April 25 marks the 125th anniversary of the start of the Spanish American War, the war that convinced the Army and the Congress it needed a permanent corps of nurses. Overwhelmed by typhoid fever and a failure to recruit enough men to provide medical support, Congress authorized the Army to contract women nurses. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, an influential organizer and well-connected individual used her connections to convince the Army Surgeon to recruit only trained nurses. Using her position in the Daughters of the American Revolution to help identify and screen the women, some 1,600 qualified nurses were brought onboard. The nurses did so well, the Army decided it needed a permanent corps of nurses. Dr. McGee, who had been appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon General of the Army, drafted the legislation that was passed in 1901 establishing the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. In a bit of trivia associated with the war, Dr. McGee, because of her appointment, was the only woman authorized to wear an officer’s uniform during the Spanish American War.
Lieutenant Commander Alice C. Cook, NC USN, Ret. Charter Member. Navy Nurse Corps 1953-1967; Navy Nurse Corps Reserve 1971-1975; Navy Nurse Corps 1975-1979
In December 1966, LCDR Alice Cook, a Navy nurse of some 13 years, feeling ill, self-diagnosed her ailment as the flu. She soon learned she was pregnant. By January 30, 1967, she was out of the Navy, having to resign her commission under the pregnancy restrictions of the day. She loved being a Navy nurse and after many unsuccessful attempts to return to the active duty Navy, she finally entered the Navy Reserve in 1971 as a lieutenant. Distressed that she could serve in the Reserve but not the Regular Navy, she sued, arguing that why, as a mother, was she allowed to serve in the Naval Reserve but not the regular Navy – her duties were the same. In 1977, the courts ruled in her favor, stating that ‘motherhood should not necessarily rule out active duty in military service’ and that the Navy’s regulation which required women be discharged due to pregnancy, was unconstitutional. The court also ordered her reinstatement at her former rank of lieutenant commander. As an aside, the Navy had abolished its pregnancy rule two years before the 1977 ruling.