Blanchfield, Florence (1884–1971)

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Blanchfield, Florence (1884–1971)

American nurse and the first woman to receive a regular commission in the U.S. Army. Born Florence Aby Blanchfield on April 1, 1884, in Front Royal, Virginia; died on May 12, 1971, in Washington, D.C.; daughter and one of eight children of Joseph Plunkett (a stone mason) and Mary Louvenia (Anderson) Blanchfield (a nurse); attended business college in Pittsburgh; University of California; Columbia University; graduated from South Side Training School for Nurses, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1906; additional training at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Florence Blanchfield's work may have been influenced by her mother Mary Blanchfield , a nurse who came from a long line of doctors. Indeed, all of the Blanchfield daughters went into nursing, although Florence alone combined her nursing with an exceptional military career.

After completing her education, Florence Blanchfield held a succession of civilian nursing positions before enlisting in the Army Nurse Corps in 1917. She spent World War I on the bloody battlefields of France, working under regular army officers who knew little about medicine. Returning to civilian life briefly after the war, she then rejoined the Army Nurse Corps and served over the next 15 years in various posts in the U.S., China, and the Philippines. In 1935, she was on the surgeon general's staff in Washington; in 1942, when World War II broke out, she was assigned as assistant to Colonel Julia Flikke , superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps. A year later, Blanchfield succeeded Flikke as colonel and superintendent, but at the time of her promotion her rank was only a formality which did not carry with it the pay or benefits of full rank. In addition to the responsibilities she was about to undertake, she became involved in an effort to secure full rank for all army nurses.

During World War II, Blanchfield supervised some 60,000 nurses on fronts from Australia to Alaska. Men with her rank, by comparison, often commanded no more than 500. In 1945, the army awarded her the Distinguished Service Medal for "devotion to duty." Although her case for full rank was won on a temporary basis in 1944, it was not until 1947—with congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton in her corner—that the Army-Navy Nurse Act was passed, granting nurses full status. General Dwight D. Eisenhower awarded Blanchard the first regular commission ever given to a woman in the United States Army.

Flikke, Julia Otteson (b. 1879?)

American superintendent of Army Nurse Corps. Born around 1879 in Viroqua, Wisconsin; married.

Married and soon widowed, Julia Flikke joined the Army Nurse Corps during World War I and was stationed with the American Expeditionary Force (A.E.F.) in France. She then served a year in China and a year in the Philippines. From 1925 to 1937, Flikke was stationed at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., then was assigned to the office of the surgeon general with the rank of captain. When Major Julia C. Stimson retired as superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, Flikke replaced her and was offered the rank of major. In March 1942, she was promoted to colonel.

Following her retirement, Blanchfield recorded the history she had witnessed, producing two books: The Army Nurse Corps in World War II (1948) and Organized Nursing and the Army in Three Wars (1950). In 1951, she was honored by the International Red Cross, with the Florence Nightingale Medal. She died in Washington, D.C., on May 12, 1971. Seven years later, the United States Army hospital in Fort Campbell, Kentucky, was named after her.

suggested reading:

Aynes, Edith A. From Nightingale to Eagle: An Army Nurse's History. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1973.


The Blanchfield papers located in the Col. Florence A. Blanchfield Collection, in the Nursing Archives at Boston University's Mugar Library.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Blanchfield, Florence (1884–1971)

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