Cadet Nurse Corps

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Recruiting poster for the Cadet Nurse Corps during World War II

The United States Cadet Nurse Corps program was passed by the U.S. Congress on unanimous vote and became effective on 1 July 1943. The main purpose of the program was to ensure that the United States had enough nurses to care for its citizens at home and abroad. It was a non-discriminatory program, allowing Native Americans, African Americans, and relocated Japanese Americans to participate. The supervision of the Corps fell to the United States Public Health Service (PHS), whose duty it was to train young women as nurses during World War II.

Women who wished to become a Cadet Nurse had to meet certain age, health, and educational requirements; if successful the federal government would subsidize the cost of their education and uniforms. In turn, students had to pledge to serve in civilian, military, or federal government services. To participate in the program, nursing schools had to be accredited and affiliated with hospitals approved by the American College of Surgeons. A majority of nursing schools in the United States participated the program. Starting in October 1945, he Cadet Nurse Corps would not admit any new students but those enrolled were allowed to complete their training. The Cadet Nurse Corps program ended in 1948, with the graduation of the last class of students.

The Cadet Nurse Corps program offered an answer to the shortage of nurses during World War II. It also helped to bring changes in how future nurses would be educated and trained in the United States. In the corps lifetime (1943-1948), it was the largest training program in the History of nursing in the United States.

Historical perspective[edit]

The need to increase the country’s nursing supply was evident, even before the United States entered World War II.[1] In July 1940, a meeting was called by the American Nurses Association to discuss what role nursing might play in time of national defense. Those in attendance included representatives from six nursing organizations, the American Red Cross, and federal agencies involved with nursing. The gathering resulted in the formation of the Nursing Council for National Defense. One of their first acts was to survey nursing resources and those of nursing schools. They determined that 100,000 nurses were eligible for military duty, and found most nursing schools were ill equipped to expand their instructional or housing capabilities. The Council followed up with a proposal in which they urged the federal government to appropriate public funds to support nursing education.[2]

In the subsequent fiscal years of 1941 and 1942, the federal government provided public funds that helped 12,000 student nurses in 309 nursing schools. Some 3,800 inactive nurses got refresher courses, and 4,800 graduate nurses received postgraduate training. By the end of 1942, student enrollment had reached 47,500 but short of the country’s need. It was clear that nurses could not be trained fast enough to keep abreast of the demands to satisfy both civilian and military requirements. The necessity for additional federal aid in the recruitment of nurses became apparent when the U.S. Army and Navy issued a call for 2,500 nurses each month for fiscal year 1943.[3]

Meanwhile, supporters of nurse training programs recommend federal aid be doubled for basic nursing education in fiscal year 1943. Representative Frances P. Bolton of Ohio, am advocate of nurses, supported the proposed increase in federal aid. “She reported to congress that still further expansion of schools of nursing might be required the following year.”[4]

Creation of Cadet Nurse Corps program[edit]

Om 29 March 1943, Representative Bolton introduced H.R. 2326. “The bill would provide for the training of musses for the armed forces, government and civilian hospitals, health agencies, and war industries through grants to the institutions providing the training.”[5] The act also provided that the nurses would be a uniformed body.[6] An amendment by the Senate prohibited discrimination against race, creed, or color. The Nurse Training Act, also called the Bolton Act, was passed unanimously by congress on 15 June 1943, and became Public Law No, 74 on 1 July 1943.[7] The name of the United States Cadet Nurse Corps was fashioned by an advisory Committee appointed, under law, by the U.S. Federal Security Administration. Two other names were considered: the Victory Nurse Corps and the Student War Nursing Reserve -both were rejected.[8]

The United States Public Health Service (PHS) was assigned to administer the Cadet Nurse Corps program. The Division of Nurse Education was established in the PHS to supervise the program and was answerable to the U.S. Surgeon General, Thomas Parran, Jr. He appointed lucile Petry, a registered nurse (RN), as director of the corps; the first women to head a division in the (PHS).[9]

Program eligibility[edit]

The Cadet Nurse program was open to all women between the ages of 17 and 35, in good health, amd had graduated from an accredited high school. Marriage was permissible, subject to certain guidelines. Successful applicants were eligible for a government subsidy, which paid for tuition, books, uniforms, and a living stipend. In exchange, student cadets were required to pledge (see cadet pledge below) to actively serve in essential civilian or federal government services for the duration of the war.[10]

  • Cadet pledge: "At this moment of my induction into the United States Cadet Nurse Corps of the United States Public Health Service, I am solemnly aware of the obligations I assume toward my country and toward my chosen profession; I will follow faithfully the teachings of my instructors and the guidance of the physicians with whom I work; I will hold in trust the finest traditions of nursing and the spirit of the Corps; I will keep my body strong, my mind alert, and my heart steadfast; I will be kind, tolerant, and understanding; Above all, I will dedicate myself now and forever to the triumph of life over death; As a Cadet nurse, I pledge to my county my service in essential nursing for the duration of the war."[11]

Under the act, all state accredited schools of nursing were eligible for grant funds in the program- but they were required to apply. The traditional 36 month nurse training program was to be accelerated to a 30month program. And for senior nursing students, a six-month period of service was required in a federal or nonfederal hospital or other health agency. In return, the federal government would pay the schools the related tuition and fees of the students.[12]

Schools of nursing[edit]

Nursing schools throughout the country were informed of the Cadet Nurse Corps program and invited to join. Schools who wanted to take part in the program had to fulfill minimal requirements. They had to be accredited and affiliated with a hospital approved by the American College of Surgeons. The staff and the facilities had to be adequate, but superior standards were not required. Schools with substandard conditions were not rejected, but supported with funds from the Corps to improve their training possibilities. When the Cadet Nurse Corps program ended in 1948. Out of the 1,300 nursing schools in the country, 1,125 schools participated. The war ended before the first Cadets could graduate, although few ever entered the military.


Advertisements for "war job with a future" promised free training with pay, room and board, and grey uniforms with grey berets ("There's one for summer and one for winter, and it's hard to say which is the smarter, which you'll wear with more pride"). Applicants were assured that they could wear something "frilly and feminine" for dances, and they would have time for dating.

Notes - References[edit]

  1. ^ Robinson pp. 27-29
  2. ^ Bobinson pp. 29-30
  3. ^ Robinson p. 34
  4. ^ Robinson p. 35
  5. ^ Perry and Robinson p. 5
  6. ^ Robinson p. 41
  7. ^ Perry and Robinson p. 5
  8. ^ Perry and Robinson p. 6
  9. ^ Perry and Robinson p. 7
  10. ^ "U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps". Rochester Regional Health. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  11. ^ "U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps". Rochester Regional Health. Retrieved 30 June 2015. 
  12. ^ Bobinson pp. 41-42
  • Perry, Paulie M.; Robinson, Thelma M. (2001). Cadet Nurse Stories. Indianapolis, IN: Center Nursing Publishing. ISBN 1-930-538-03-0. 
  • Susan H. Godson (2001). Serving Proudly. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-55750-317-6. 
  • Robinson, Thelma M, (2009). Your Country Needs You. Blomington, IN: Xilbris. ISBN 978-1-4415-5378-2. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Bonnie Bullough, "The lasting impact of World War II on nursing." AJN The American Journal of Nursing (1976) 76#1 pp: 118-124.
  • Beatrice J. Kalisch and Philip A. Kalisch. "Nurses in American History The Cadet Nurse Corps-in World War II" AJN The American Journal of Nursing (1976) 76#2 pp: 240-242
  • Heather Willever nd John Parascandola, "The Cadet Nurse Corps, l943-48." Public Health Reports (1994) 109#3 pp: 455-57. online
  • Cadet Nurse Corps history and WWII women's uniforms in color — WWII US women's service organizations (WAC, WAVES, ANC, NNC, USMCWR, PHS, SPARS, ARC, and WASP)