Lenah Higbee

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Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee
Lenah Higbee.jpg
Born(1874-05-18)May 18, 1874
Chatham, Dominion of Canada
DiedJanuary 10, 1941(1941-01-10) (aged 66)
Winter Park, Florida, U.S.
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1908–1922
RankChief Nurse
Commands heldSuperintendent of the United States Navy Nurse Corps (1911–22)
Battles/warsWorld War I
AwardsNavy Cross
Spouse(s)LtCol John Henley Higbee, USMC

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (May 18, 1874 – January 10, 1941) was a pioneering Canadian-born United States Navy chief nurse, who served as Superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps during World War I. She is best known for being the first female recipient of the Navy Cross.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Higbee was born Lenah H. Sutcliffe in Chatham, New Brunswick, Canada, on 18 May 1874.[2] She completed nurses' training at the New York Post-Graduate Hospital in 1899 and entered private practice soon thereafter. Lenah Higbee took postgraduate training at Fordham Hospital, New York in 1908.


In October 1908, she joined the newly established U.S. Navy Nurse Corps as one of its first twenty members. These nurses, who came to be called "The Sacred Twenty", were the first women to formally serve as members of the Navy.[3]

She was promoted to Chief Nurse in 1909. Lenah Higbee became Chief Nurse at Norfolk Naval Hospital in April 1909.[4]

In January 1911, Higbee became the second Superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps.[5] For her achievements in leading the Corps through the First World War, Chief Nurse Higbee was awarded the Navy Cross. She was the first woman to receive that decoration.

Navy Cross citation[edit]

Date of Action: 1918

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Superintendent Lenah Sutcliff Higbee, United States Navy, for distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.[6]

Later life and death[edit]

She resigned from the position of Superintendent and retired from the Navy on 23 November 1922.[7]

Higbee died at Winter Park, Florida, on 10 January 1941 and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.[8][2]


The US Navy has named two ships in her honor;


  1. ^ "Mabus Names DDG After First Woman Awarded Navy Cross". United States Naval Institute. 14 June 2016.
  2. ^ a b Wilson, Scott (2016). Resting Places: The Burial Sites of More Than 14,000 Famous Persons. McFarland. p. 339. ISBN 9781476625997.
  3. ^ Greenwood, John T.; Berry, F. Clifton (2005). Medics at War: Military Medicine from Colonial Times to the 21st Century. Naval Institute Press. p. 61. ISBN 1-59114-344-6.
  4. ^ "Mabus Names DDG After First Woman Awarded Navy Cross". 14 June 2016.
  5. ^ Skaine, Rosemarie (2011). Women in Combat: A Reference Handbook. ABC-CLIO. p. 121. ISBN 9781598844597. Retrieved 9 January 2017.
  6. ^ "Highbee Navy Cross citation". militarytimes.com. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  7. ^ "Higbee, Lenah Sutcliffe-Text".
  8. ^ Patterson, Michael Robert. "Lehah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, Superintendent, Navy Nurse Corps, United States Navy".
  9. ^ Thorpe, JR. "10 Heroic Women Who Helped Win WWI, Because The Great War Wasn't Only Fought By Men".
  10. ^ Public Affairs, Secretary of the Navy. "Secretary Mabus Names Destroyer after Pioneering US Navy Nurse". United States Navy.
Further reading

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by
Esther Hasson
Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps
Succeeded by
Josephine Beatrice Bowman