Petry, Lucile (1902–1999)

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Petry, Lucile (1902–1999)

American founding director of the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps. Name variations: Lucile Petry Leone. Born on January 23, 1902, in Frog Heaven, Ohio; died on November 25, 1999, in San Francisco, California; graduated from University of Delaware in 1924; received advanced degrees at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing, 1927, and Columbia Teachers College, 1929; married Nicholas Leone (divorced 1967).

Initiated U.S. Public Health Service program to attract women into nursing to cope with expected casualties of war (1941); founded and became director of Cadet Nurse Corps, a more formal effort to attract women to nursing field (1943); became first woman to direct a division of the U.S. Public Health Service (1949); retired from government service (1966); retired as teacher and associate dean at Texas Women's University (1971).

The only child of a small-town school principal, Lucile Petry was born in 1902 in Frog Heaven, Preble County, Ohio, but spent most of her childhood in Selbyville, Delaware. She obtained a bachelor's degree in 1924 at the University of Delaware, and received advanced degrees in 1927 and 1929 at Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing and Columbia Teachers College, respectively. She taught at the schools of nursing at both Yale and the University of Minnesota.

While at the University of Minnesota, she was selected to initiate a program to respond to an anticipated need for more nurses should America become involved in World War II. The program, considered a less radical alternative to drafting nurses, was run under the auspices of the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1943, while America was at war in both Europe and Asia, Petry's talents were tapped again for an even more determined effort to fulfill military and civilian nursing needs. She became the founder and director of the Cadet Nurse Corps, which provided funding to cover the costs of nursing students' tuition, fees, room and board, books, stipends and uniforms. In return, candidates promised to participate in essential military or civilian nursing for as long as the war lasted. The Cadet Nurse Corps proved to be immensely successful, meeting its recruitment goals in 1943 and 1944 and surpassing them in 1945, when there were 112,000 cadets in the program. Petry attributed the Corps' success to the fact that women liked the idea of combining war service with professional education that could be utilized later.

In 1949, Petry became the first woman to direct a division of the U.S. Public Health Service when she was made the head of Nurse Education. She also was the first nurse to be appointed assistant surgeon general. Retiring from government service in 1966, Petry then resumed teaching nursing and became an associate dean at Texas Women's University. She retired from these positions in 1971, and died on November 25, 1999, in San Francisco, age 97.


The New York Times (obituary). December 5, 1999.

Jo Anne Anne , freelance writer, Brookfield, Vermont

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Petry, Lucile (1902–1999)

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