“Debating Gender and Equal Opportunity: Male Nurse Integration and the 1950s
Army Nurse Corps”
In 1947, Congress passed the Army-Navy Nurse Act, which made the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) part of the regular army and gave female nurses permanent commissioned officer status. In the wake of this change, heated debates about the use and inclusion of male nurses within the ANC re-emerged. In 1950, the Chief of the Army Nurse Corps took this debate directly to female Army nurses by asking them to comment on the pros and cons of including men within their ranks.
This paper examines this debate as it unfolded inside and outside of the Army Nurse Corps over the course of five years, through the Korean War, and culminating with the acceptance of male nurses in 1955. While scholars continue to examine racial integration and the inclusion of women in the Army during the post-World War II period, little is known about the highly charged idea of incorporating men into an organization that was mandated female and into an occupation that was largely accepted as the domain of women. The discussion about male nurse integration reveals three intersecting and different perspectives. First, male nurses believed that a sense of fairness, equal opportunity, and even duty, demanded their inclusion. Interestingly, both female nurses and African American used similar arguments concerning military service in the past. Second, female nurse rejection of male nurses centered on protectionism and female autonomy in an institution they struggled to make own. Third, for a large percentage of the public, male nurses not only uncomfortably tested the boundaries of masculinity and military service, but also threatened to unravel traditional gender roles.
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