Phyllis Mae Dailey: First Black Navy Nurse
In celebration of Women’s History Month, The National WWII Museum is focusing on milestones in women’s contributions to the war effort. For black women in particular, the war was fought for “Double V” — victory over the enemy overseas, and victory over prejudice at home. On this day in 1945, Phyllis Mae Dailey was inducted into the United States Navy Nurse Corps. Dailey (second from right in the photograph above) was the first African American sworn in as a Navy nurse on 8 March 1945, following changes in Navy recruitment and admittance procedures that had previously excluded black women from joining the Nurse Corps.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was a well known proponent for the change, and had also put pressure on the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and SPARS (the women’s component of the Coast Guard) — all subsets of the Navy — to do the same. The SPARS would finally be integrated in October 1944, and the WAVES in December 1944. As a matter of reference, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later fully incorporated and called the Women’s Army Corps) accepted African Americans beginning in January 1941, but capped the number who could serve to around 10% of the corps.
Under pressure from several directions, the Navy ended exclusion based on race in January 1945. Due to the Navy Nurse Corps being one of the last units to accept African Americans, it had the smallest representation of black women. By August 1945, when the war ended, there were just four active duty African American nurses in the Navy Nurse Corps, versus more than 6,000 that had served with the Women’s Army Corps during the war.