A few months ago I received an email from Fold3.com announcing some new sets of documents on their database. The word “Nurse” caught my eye, so I read further. This collection “World War II Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, 1942 – 1948” is the membership cards of the women who joined.
What was the Cadet Nursing Corps? It seems that during World War II there was a severe shortage of trained nurses. Many nurses were called overseas, and many became “Rosie the Riveters” in the defense industry. Civilian hospitals were experiencing emergency situations without enough nursing staff.
Federal funding to address the shortage passed unanimously in Washington, D.C. (imagine that!) in 1942. The US. Cadet Nurse Corps was founded through the US Public Health Service (not the military) to train nurses and to fund training programs at nursing schools. By 1945 Cadet Nurses provided 80% of the care in civilian hospitals. The Corps paid for tuition, fees, stipends and uniforms. Women ages 17 to 35 joined and received a free education in exchange for a pledge to serve in military or civilian hospitals after graduation.
In 1945 my Aunt Shirley was only 17 years old. She had just graduated from high school and had registered to attend secretarial school in Boston that fall. As my cousin Susan, her daughter, tells the story- Shirley was sitting on the beach that summer when she changed her mind about her education. She went home and announced to her family that she was going to be a nurse. According to the family Shirley’s father said “How can you be a nurse? You can barely stand the sight of a runny egg!”
That fall Shirley registered in the US Cadet Nursing Corps at the Beverly Hospital School of Nursing. You can see her registration card, from Fold3, below – front and back.
I was perusing these cards on Fold3 because my mother also graduated from the Beverly Hospital School of Nursing in the 1950s. She would have been too young to join the US Cadet Nurse Corps, but I was going to read my Mom some of the names on the list to see if she recognized the women. That’s when I saw Shirley’s name! I immediately contacted my cousin Susan (who is also a registered nurse) and her mother, Shirley, to show them the images from Fold3.
Later I sat down with Shirley and Susan to look at the images and to listen to Shirley’s stories about her days in nursing school. I had heard about the school from my Mom, but I wanted to hear about it from Shirley’s view as a cadet nurse.
|Here is Auntie Shirley, in a Beverly Hospital School of Nursing alumni book.|
Shirley didn’t remember filling in the membership forms seen online, but she still had her Cadet Nurse membership card. The serial numbers and the handwriting are exactly the same! She had her membership pin, and photos of the time period, too. Shirley has been a member of the Alumni association since graduation, and participated in the activities until recently. She is the only member of her class of 13 graduates still in the area.
As a Cadet Nurse Shirley received a stipend of $15 a month, but she was expected to attend classes all morning starting at 7am, work a training shift on the hospital floor all afternoon, and then a shift from 7 to 10pm. She doesn’t remember when she had time to study! She also was paid to work the hospital floor on weekends, and since there was a dearth of nurses she was paid at the supervisor level right after graduation. This was something she was very proud to tell me.
Shirley’s three year training program ended with graduation in 1948, and the war had ended. She was told that she did not have to serve her two year compulsory service overseas. This was something she was very happy about since many of her fellow trainees from previous years at the Beverly School of Nursing had gone to nurse overseas or to occupied territories at the end of the war. 1948 was the last year of the US Cadet Nurse Corps.
Was there a nurse in your family who was part of the US Cadet Nurse Corps 1942 – 1948?
To search at Fold3 for WWII Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files
To search at Ancestry.com
US World War II Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files 1942 – 1948
Cadet Nurse Stories: The Call and Response of Women During World War II by Thelma M. Robinson and Paulie M. Perry, published by the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, 2001
“The Lasting Impact of World War II on Nursing” by Bonnie Bullough, AJN The American Journal of Nursing, 1976, Volume 76, no. 1, pages 118 – 124.
“Nurses in American History: The Cadet Nurse Corps in World War II” by Beatrice J. Kalisch and Phillip A. Kalisch, AJN The American Journal of Nursing, 1976, Volume 76, no. 2, pages 240 – 343.
The US Cadet Nurse Corps website
The Cadet Nurse Project website
Published under a Creative Commons License
Heather Wilkinson Rojo, "Family Reunions, 2015", Nutfield Genealogy, posted June 22, 2015 http://nutfieldgenealogy.blogspot.com/2015/06/is-there-cadet-nurse-in-your-family-tree.html : accessed [access date])