Johnson, Hazel 1927–
Hazel Johnson 1927–
Military official, nurse, educator
When Hazel Johnson, an operating room nurse, joined the U.S. army in 1955, she had no idea she’d make military history. Initially searching for a way to stay in her profession and see the world, Johnson would eventually rise through the ranks to become the first black woman general in 1979.“I always wanted to move about and to experience different philosophies,” she told Ebony in 1980.“The army offered me a chance to do that while continuing to advance in level of responsibility.” Throughout her tenure in the army, Johnson also taught, not only by example, but in the classroom as well. Following her retirement from the army and a stint as government affairs director of the American Nursing Association, Johnson became a professor of nursing, first at George Washington University in Washington, DC, then George Mason University in Virginia.
Born in 1927 in Malvem, Pennsylvania, Johnson was one of seven children raised on her father’s farm in nearby West Chester. Early on Johnson looked toward nursing as a career and began her training at New York’s Harlem Hospital in 1950. While working at a veteran’s hospital in Philadelphia, a former army nurse who knew of Johnson’s desire to see the world, urged her to consider a career in the military. After just one meeting with a recruiter in 1955, Johnson enlisted. Five years later, she received a direct commission to the Army Nurse Corps as a first lieutenant.
Timing had much to do with Johnson’s success in the military as she entered the Army shortly after President Harry Truman banned segregation and discrimination in the armed services.“I think the nurse corps has been more progressive as far as human rights” Johnson admitted to Ebony.“When I came in there were no problems that I encountered so far as being black. I was very fortunate that I was given assignments that allowed me to demonstrate my ability and potential for greater ability.” Additionally, Johnson was afforded educational opportunities in the Army and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Villanova University, a master’s degree in nursing education from Columbia University, and a Ph.D in education administration from Catholic University.
Like most good soldiers Johnson was rewarded with promotions and posts of responsibility during her service in
At a Glance …
Born Hazel Johnson in 1927 in Malvern, Pennsyl vania. Married David Brown, 1980s. Married David Brown, c. 1980s.Education: Harlem Hospital School of Nursing; B.S. in nursing, Vilfanova University; M.S in nursing education, Columbia University; Ph.D in educational administration, Catholic University.Military: U.S. Army, 1955-1983.
Career: Nurse at Philadelphia Veteran’s Hospital, early 1950s; joined Army, 1955; direct commission to the Army Nurse Corps as a first lieutenant, 1960; Surgical Directorate at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command in Washington, DC, dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing, chief nurse of the US. Army Medical Command in Korea, and special assistant to the chief of the Army Nurse Corps, assistant dean of the School of Nursing at University of Maryland, 1965-1979; named the first black woman general in the United States Army an d the first black chief of the Army Nurse Corps, 1979-1983; director of government affairs for the American Nursing Association, 1984-1986; adjunct professor of nursing at George Washington University, 1985-86; professor of nursing at George Mason University, 1986-.
Member: Honorary member of Chi Eta Phi Sorority.
Awards: U.S. Army Nurse of the Year, 1972; honorary doctorates from Villanova University, Morgan State University, University of Maryland; Distinguished Service Medal; Legion of Merit; Meritorious Service Medal; Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster.
Addresses: Office —C310 Carroll Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 22030.
the army. From first lieutenant to captain, then major, lieutenant colonel and by the mid-1970s, Johnson was colonel and the highest ranking black woman in the armed services. Positions she held included Surgical Directorate at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development-Command in Washington, DC, dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing, chief nurse of the U.S. Army Medical Command in Korea, and special assistant to the chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Additionally, she was assistant dean of the undergraduate program of the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland where she was responsible for the training of students who were sent to military health facilities around the world.
While the list of credentials Johnson accumulated was impressive, her responsibilities were all consuming and left little time to pursue other avenues of life, including marriage.“Well, when I went into nursing you were not allowed to be married,” she told Ebony.“But I also found that it is very difficult for a woman to find a man who can cope with the problems inherent in a busy and time-consuming schedule. From my point of view, I had to decide what was more important, marriage or my career.” A decision rewarded in 1979 when Johnson was named the first black woman general in the United States Army and the first black chief of the Army Nurse Corps at the age of 52.
As chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Johnson oversaw 7, 000 men and women nurses in the Army, Army National Guard and Army Reserves. Additionally, it was her charge to set policy and monitor the operations of eight Army medical centers, 56 community hospitals, and 143 free-standing clinics in the U.S. and abroad. Shortly after beginning her four-year term as chief of the nurse corps, Johnson indicated she hoped to make her mark by improving training and educational programs in the organization.“Positive progress towards excellence, that’s what we want,” she told Ebony.“If you stand still and settle for the status quo, that’s exactly what you will have.”
In 1983, at the completion of her term as chief of the Army Nurse Corps, General Johnson retired from the Army. From 1984 to 1986 she was director of government affairs for the American Nursing Association in Washington, DC, while simultaneously teaching nursing at George Washington University. In 1986 she became a professor of nursing at George Mason University in Virginia. Additionally, the demands of teaching being somewhat less rigorous than running health operations for the U.S. Army, Johnson found time to marry in the 1980s.
“I’ve really done what I wanted to do,” she reflected to Ebony.“In fact, I’ve done more than I ever expected to do.” Since she made that statement in 1980, Hazel Johnson—now Hazel Johnson-Brown—has still done more. And she continues to have enormous achievements every time someone walks out of George Mason University with a nursing degree.
Carnegie, Mary Elizabeth, The Path We Tread: Blacks in Nursing Worldwide, 1954-1994, National League for Nursing Press, 1995.
Hine, Darlene Clark, et. al., Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Indiana University Press, 1993.
Sammons, Vivian Ovelton, Blacks in Science and Medicine, Hemisphere Publishing, 1990.
Ebony, August 1977, p. 76; February 1980, p.44.
Jet, July 17, 1980, p. 60; September 23, 1983, p. 30.
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