Army Pillar – African American Women Soldiers

Army Pillar - African American WomenAfrican-American women have played a role in every war effort the United States has been involved in.  As early as the Civil War and the Spanish-American War serving as nurses these women placed themselves in harm’s way, offering their abilities, strengths, and desire to serve their country to preserve and ensure America’s freedom.  African-American women faced gender discrimination and racial discrimination during their military service, but they persevered and broke down the racial and gender barriers they faced.

In 1917 black nurses were encouraged to enroll in the American Red Cross, but they were not accepted until November 1918, the last month of World War I.  This marks the first time in military history that African-American women were part of an organization where they found leadership and direction.

In 1941, the Army allowed black nurses to enroll in the nurse corps, but only 56 nurses.  In 1943 a bill was passed to bar racial bias and soon 2,000 black women were enrolled in the Cadet Nurse Corps.  By 1944 there were no limits on quotas for the number of black nurses in the Army.  Members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, made up of enlisted African-American women were sent to France during WWII to assist with the backlog of mail.

On 1 September 1979, Hazel W. Johnson became the first black woman general officer, assuming the position of chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

Of the 35,000 females who went to fight in Desert Storm, 40% were African-American, and they represented all ranks: officers, noncommissioned officers, and enlisted soldiers.  When looking at statistical data of African-American women in the Army, we find that in fiscal year 1993, 33% of all women in the Army were African-American.  These women follow in the footsteps of all of their predecessors who served in the military since pre-colonial days.

These “firsts” were found on

  • February 12, 1948, the first Black nurse joined the Regular Army Nurse Corps.
  • In November 1979, Second Lieutenant Marcella A. Hayes is the fifty-fifth woman out of 48,000 officers to graduate from the Army Aviation School in Ft Rucker, Alabama. She became the first black woman pilot in the U.S. armed forces.
  • In September 1979, Hazel Winifred Johnson became the first Black woman promoted to the rank and position of Brigadier General, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps