Obit of the Day: Military Nursing Pioneer
Doretha Anderson wanted to go into show business. But the Georgia teen knew that her aunt and school principal would have none of that, so when asked about her career interest she lied and said “nursing.” The next thing she knew someone had enrolled her in nursing school.
Mrs. Anderson would eventually find herself as one of a select group of African American nurses serving in the U.S. Army during World War II.
When the Army began opening up recruiting for nurses after Pearl Harbor, there was a strict quota for Black nurses in the military. Only 56 African American women were allowed to serve when Mrs. Anderson joined. The number was expanded to 160 in 1943. The reason given for the limit was that Black nurses could only provide medical care to Black troops so the military simply did not need as many.
In 1944, under pressure from the NAACP and the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses the quota was lifted and 2000 African Americans entered the Nurse Cadet Corps. The military also allowed Black medical personnel to serve overseas.
Mrs. Anderson, second row third from the right, was one of the first African American nurses to serve in England. (Several other contingents of Black nurses were sent overseas to Liberia and Burma.) The group of 63 nurses would serve in the 168th Station Hospital taking care of German prisoners of war.
After the war Mrs. Anderson continued working as a nurse in Chicago and Alton, Illinois. She retired from the profession in 1984 and moved with her husband to Dayton, Ohio.
Doretha Anderson died on August 19, 2013 at the age of 98.
(Image “Twenty-four of the first contingent of Negro nurses assigned to the European Theater of Operations.” is courtesy of the Library of Congress. It was taken by the U.S. Signal Corps and part of the NAACP’s collection donated to the LOC. Second Lieutenant Doretha Anderson is in the second row, fourth from the left.)