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November/December 2014

Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee was an organizing member of the National Society and the first Librarian General. Born on November 4, 1864, in Washington, D.C., she was educated in private schools in the city and later traveled in Europe for three years, during which time she took courses at Newham College in Cambridge and at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.  In 1892, she graduated from Columbian University (now George Washington University) in Washington, D.C., with a degree in medicine, followed by post-graduate study in gynecology at the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md. From 1892–1896, Dr. McGee maintained a thriving, albeit short-lived, medical practice. She left active practice in 1896 to return to original research.

In 1898, when the United States declared war on Spain, she discussed the readiness of the DAR to compile a roster of approved nurses with General George M. Sternberg, who was Surgeon General of the Army and the husband of another DAR member. As a result, Dr. McGee was appointed director of the DAR Hospital Corps.

As the only organization providing Army nurses at that time, the DAR’s role was to screen applications. Along with assistant directors Mary Desha and Caroline Nash, Dr. McGee examined more than 5,000 applications sent in by nurses from across the nation. To qualify, nurses had to be graduates of a recognized training school and be between the ages of 30 and 50.  They were required to provide character recommendations and take an oath of allegiance to the United States. The DAR Hospital Corps certified 1,081 thoroughly trained women for service at the front. 

With her appointment as Acting Assistant Surgeon of the United States on August 29, 1898, Dr. McGee was placed in charge of the Army nurses.  After the Spanish-American War ended in 1900, she prepared the Army Nurse Corps section of the Army Reorganization Act, in which she recommended that the superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps should be a nurse. She resigned from her position on December 31, 1900.

Throughout her life she challenged women to assume a stronger intellectual role, a goal she personified through her many scholarly works and executive positions in scientific, anthropological and service organizations throughout the country. The Army Nurse Corps is the living legacy of this non-nurse pioneer of Army nursing.

In 1966, at the invitation of the Secretary of the Army, the National Society began presenting the Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee Award to the Outstanding Army Nurse of the Year. In June 2014, Colonel Theresa Sullivan was honored as the most recent recipient of this annual award.

Photo Credit: U.S. Army Medical Museum