Stimson, Julia (1881–1948)

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Stimson, Julia (1881–1948)

American nurse and the first woman in the U.S. Army to receive the rank of major. Born Julia Catherine Stimson on May 26, 1881, in Worcester, Massachusetts; died on September 29 or 30, 1948, in Poughkeepsie, New York; daughter of Henry A. Stimson (a minister) and Alice Wheaton (Bartlett) Stimson; educated at public schools in St. Louis, and the Brearley School in New York City; Vassar College, B.A., 1901; attended Columbia University, 1901–03; graduated from New York Hospital Training School, 1908; Washington University, A.M., 1917.

Julia Stimson was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1881 and spent her early childhood years there. She was the second daughter born to Henry A. Stimson, a Congregationalist minister, and Alice Bartlett Simpson , whose father, the Reverend Samuel Colcord Bartlett, was president of Dartmouth College. Stimson came from an accomplished family: her cousin was Henry Lewis Stimson, secretary of war and later secretary of state; her brother Dr. Phillip Moen Stimson was a specialist in communicable diseases, and her sister Dr. Barbara E. Stimson was a specialist in orthopedic surgery. Another brother was a lawyer and another sister a dean and professor of history at Goucher College. When Julia was five years old, her father accepted a pastorate in St. Louis, Missouri, where she attended public schools. Julia went to the Brearley School after her father's profession took the family to New York City in 1892.

After receiving her B.A. in 1901 from Vassar, she pursued graduate studies in biology at Columbia University from 1901 to 1903. A year later, following a fortuitous meeting with Annie Warburton Goodrich (1866–1954), the superintendent of the New York Hospital Training School for Nurses, Stimson began her studies there, graduating in 1908. She accepted her first professional assignment that same year as the superintendent of nurses and head of the department at Harlem Hospital, where she stayed until 1911. Along with another nurse, Florence M. Johnson , she developed a social service department at the hospital to better meet the needs of patients as well as the neighborhood's impoverished families. Stimson then returned to St. Louis where she served as acting social service administrator for Barnes and Children's Hospitals, associated with Washington University, where she became superintendent of nurses in 1913. During this time she obtained her master's degree in sociology, biology, and education from Washington University, graduating in 1917.

Stimson became involved with the Red Cross as a nurse in 1909 and became a member of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing in 1914. Upon the United States' entry into World War I, Stimson joined the Army Nurse Corps. Attached to the British Expeditionary Forces at Rouen, France, she went to Paris in 1918 and became chief of the Red Cross Nursing Service in France and coordinator of Red Cross and Army Nursing. Later that year, she was named director of nursing for the American Expeditionary Forces, placing her in charge of more than 10,000 nurses in the Army Nurse Corps. Her impressive service in the war merited her reception of the Distinguished Service Medal, awarded by General John J. Pershing, and a citation from the Allied Expeditionary Forces by Field Marshal Douglas Haig.

In 1919, Stimson returned to the United States and was named acting superintendent, and later permanent superintendent, of the Army Nurse Corps and dean of the Army School of Nursing. In 1920, she received the relative rank of major (fully commissioned rank was granted to nurses only in 1947)—the first woman in the U.S. Army to receive that rank. Stimson's accomplishments during her years as superintendent included raising the requirements for service in the Nursing Corps, adding postgraduate courses, and making service in the Nursing Corps an appealing career. She retired from the position in 1937.

Stimson was called back into active service during World War II to recruit nurses into the Army. On August 13, 1948, she was promoted to the full commissioned rank of colonel on the retired list. Julia Stimson was active in national nursing organizations throughout her life, even after retirement. She promoted nursing as a career and served on the board of directors of the National League of Nursing Education. She was also involved in the American Women's Association of New York (a founding member), the League of Women Voters, and the American Association of University Women. On September 30, 1948, she died after surgery in Poughkeepsie, New York, of acute circulatory collapse caused by generalized arteriosclerosis.

Stimson's works include Nurses' Handbook of Drugs and Solutions (a nursing text, 1910); Finding Themselves (a series of letters to her family, 1918); and articles in the Military Surgeon. Her awards and honors include the American Distinguished Service Medal; the British Royal Red Cross, 1st Class; the Medaille de la Reconnaissance Françaises; the Medaille d'Honneur de l'Hygiène Publique; the International Florence Nightingale Medal; and an honorary degree from Mt. Holyoke College.


Current Biography, 1940. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1940.

James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Karina L. Kerr , M.A., Ypsilanti, Michigan