Skip main navigation

Military Health System

Clear Your Browser Cache

This website has recently undergone changes. Users finding unexpected concerns may care to clear their browser's cache to ensure a seamless experience.

Defense Health Agency Marks Women’s Equality Day

Image of Defense Health Agency Marks Women’s Equality Day. The Defense Health Agency recognized Women’s Equality Day with a virtual presentation about the history of women in military medicine by Laura Cutter, the chief archivist of the National Museum of Health and Medicine. (Credit: Maria Christina Yager)

The Defense Health Agency recognized Women’s Equality Day, the celebration of the19th Amendment giving women the right to vote, with a virtual presentation about the history of women in military medicine, Aug. 10. 

The event was organized by Paul Reynolds, special observance program manager for DHA’s Force Resilience Office, and featured a presentation by Laura Cutter, the chief archivist of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, titled “In Common Danger and Endurance: Women in Military Medicine.”

In her opening remarks, DHA Director U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland  acknowledged, “we should celebrate how far we've come … but… we can't rest on those advancements because we know that equality across the board, whether it’s about gender, race or ethnicity, brings so much value to society and certainly medicine.”

Cutter’s presentation addressed the changing role of women in military medicine from the Civil War to the modern era.

“Generally, there was an overarching belief that women should not be part of the regular military,” Cutter said. “Broadly, in American society, many felt that women, especially young women, were fundamentally unsuited to the hardships of military life and ought to stay home.”

“During the Civil War, women contracted with the Union military as nurses,” she added. “Free black women worked as nurses along with white women with roles and tasks often, and unsurprisingly, segregated by race and class. In the Confederacy, enslaved women could be hired out to Confederate hospitals.”

Cutter discussed significant women of the era including Dorothea Dix, who served as superintendent of the U.S. Army nurses during the Civil War, and set qualifications for contract nurses; Harriet Tubman, who was famous as an underground railroad conductor, but also served as a U.S. Army nurse in South Carolina caring for black soldiers and liberated slaves; and Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, the first female surgeon in the U.S. Army.

“Dr. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor due to her service only to have it revoked two years before her death in an attempt by Congress to reduce the long list of elderly pension recipients who had been honored as civilians during the war,” said Cutter. “Although she was never very deferential to authority, Walker refused to acknowledge Congress's action, and continued to wear her medal to all public appearances.”

Cutter went on to cover many significant post-Civil War milestones for women in military medicine:

  • During Spanish American War, when the army had too few male nurses to provide needed care, Congress authorized the hiring of female nurses.
  • The Army Reorganization Act of 1901 established the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent unit.
  • During World War I, the Red Cross certified more than 1,800 African American Nurses for service. However, only 18 were allowed to serve and their actual service was delayed until after the end of the war, which denied them most of the benefits they would have otherwise been entitled to—including veteran status.
  • During World War II, over 350,000 women served in all branches of the service.
  • The Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 granted women the right to serve as permanent, regular members of all branches of the service.

In the modern era, “approximately 37,000 female service members from all U.S. military branches were deployed to the Middle East and surrounding areas between August 1990 and March 1991,” said Cutter. “Officially, women still did not serve in combat. However, the nature of the conflict did mean that lines of combat consistently moved, and after more than a century of resistance to women in or near combat in any capacity, that resistance was coming to a close.”

In 2003, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta removed the ban on women serving in combat.

The presentation sparked much engagement from the more than 430 participants with one attendee sharing her personal connection to nurses who served in the Korean War. “This [discussion] touches me as my father, who is still with me at 94, served in the Korean War and was severely wounded but survived and ultimately thrived. These women cared for him and impacted the quality of care he received!”

Another employee shared how “we need women at all levels, including the top, to change the dynamic, reshape the conversation, to make sure women’s voices are heard and heeded, not overlooked and ignored.”

U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Tanya Johnson, senior enlisted leader for the DHA, gave remarks at the close of the event. “No matter what walk of life you come from, or whatever your ethnic background is, as a woman, we've overcome some tremendous obstacles along the way … we have opened so many doors that people probably don't even realize just by that tenacity, and our ability to overcome adversity.”

The 19th Amendment, which was certified on August 26, 1920, prohibits states and the federal government from denying citizens the right to vote on the basis of sex.

Women's Equality Day was first celebrated in 1971 during the fight for women's equality and the Equal Rights Amendment. This was a major step in efforts to remove barriers to women's full participation in American public life.

“This observance invites all of us to focus our attention on women's continued efforts toward gaining full equality, which is essential to the public recognition of their dignity and contributions across our society,” said Christianne Witten, DHA chief of internal communications, and event moderator.

Watch the entire event recording here and find a copy of Ms. Cutter’s presentation on MS Teams InfoHub.

You also may be interested in...

Article Around MHS
Jan 29, 2024

Aptitude Update with Nurse Corps Skill Sustainment Fair at Naval Hospital Bremerton

Competence clarified at Naval Hospital Bremerton…Cmdr. Krystal Chunaco, NHB Directorate of Surgical Services clinic manager receives refresher training on intraosseous devices from Lt. Barbara Kent, NHB Pediatrics Clinic department head, who was also the lead coordinator of the multi-disciplinary and collaborative Nurse Corps Skills Sustainment Fair – billed as a nursing fair for nurses by nurses - held over a two-day period in mid-January 2024. (Photo: Douglas H Stutz)

They came from Urgent Care Clinic, Family Medicine Department, the Main Operating Room and elsewhere, including the command suite. All were welcomed participants at Naval Hospital Bremerton’s Nurse Corps Skills Sustainment Fair – billed as a nursing fair for nurses by nurses - held over a two-day period in mid-January 2024.

Article Around MHS
Dec 11, 2023

Womack Army Medical Center Learner Presents at the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology Annual Congress

Registered nurse1st Lt. Hannah Melkun who is in her final year in the United States Army Graduate Program in Anesthesia Nursing, posed for a picture during the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology 2023 Annual Congress held in August.  (Photo: Keisha Frith)

The passion for learning, growth, and excellence propelled registered nurse 1st Lt. Hannah Melkun, who is in her final year of the United States Army Graduate Program in Anesthesia Nursing, to become involved in research. She was then selected by the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology to represent Womack Army Medical Center (WAMC) at the ...

Article Around MHS
Dec 11, 2023

Florida Guardsman Receives U.S. Surgeon General’s Highest Civilian Honor

In this time of unprecedented global health challenges, frontline responders like U.S. Air Force Maj. Kevin Tipton stand out as beacons of hope and resilience. Tipton, a critical care nurse practitioner with the 125th Fighter Wing of the Florida Air National Guard, received the Surgeon General’s Medallion from Vice Admiral Vivek Murthy, the U.S. ...

Article Around MHS
Nov 27, 2023

Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Salutes Nurses

U.S. Navy Lt. Maurice Hill, who hails from New Orleans, is also one of the nurses at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. He explains that he was inspired to become a nurse because of his mother. (Photo by Bernard Little/WRNMMC)

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kristine Timmerman, a nurse at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, simply says she became a nurse “to serve.” That sentiment is shared among many of the nurses at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center who ensure that the surgical journey of each patient at “The President’s Hospital” is as comfortable and ...

Article Around MHS
Nov 20, 2023

Armed Services YMCA Recognizes U.S. Army “Angel of the Battlefield”

The U.S. Army recipient of the 2023 Armed Services Angel of the Battlefield award is U.S. Staff Sgt. Ta'Quesha Abson, currently assigned to the Medical Readiness Brigade, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. (Photo by Ronald Wolf, U.S. Army Medical Command)

Each year the Armed Services YMCA presents the “Angel of the Battlefield Award” to a heroic enlisted medical professional from each branch of the Armed Services. For 2023, the Army recipient of this award was U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ta'Quesha Abson, currently at the Medical Readiness Brigade, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Article Around MHS
Sep 25, 2023

A Nursing Journey: Saving Lives and Exploring the World One Adventure at a Time

U.S. Navy Lt. Claire Burke reaches the summit of Mount Fuji in Honshu, Japan, the tallest mountain in the country and of the highest peaks in the world. Although Burke’s journey has taken her to many ports, she always dreamed that one day she would have the privilege of working at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced in my 11 years as a Navy nurse,” commented Burke, enjoying the opportunity to work with and mentor nurses from the U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Air Force. (Courtesy Photo)

Growing up, The Hunt for Red October, a thrilling 1990s cinematic adventure starring Alec Baldwin as CIA analyst Jack Ryan, captured the attention and imagination of U.S. Navy Lt. Claire Burke, who briefly flirted with the idea of becoming an intelligence analyst before pursing her naval nursing career.

Article Around MHS
Sep 13, 2023

International Red Cross Medal Awarded to Team Yokota Nurse

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brandi Branch, 374th Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinic flight commander, is one of 37 people from 22 countries that received the Florence Nightingale Medal from the International Red Cross, the highest recognition of distinctive medical service a nurse can be awarded, at Yokota Air Base, Japan, on Aug. 7, 2023. Branch was recognized for her efforts in Afghanistan working with the Red Crescent, a Red Cross affiliate, and for her efforts in medical education. (Graphic: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Ryan Lackey)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brandi Branch, 374th Obstetrics and Gynecology Outpatient Clinic flight commander, is one of only 37 people from 22 countries that received the Florence Nightingale Medal this year from the International Red Cross—the highest recognition of medical service a nurse can be awarded for extraordinary courage, devotion, service, and ...

Article Around MHS
May 25, 2023

From the Farm to the Hospital: Former Chief of the U.S. Army Nurse Corps Driven by Life’s Challenges

Retired U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Clara Leach Adams-Ender poses for a photo at her home in Lake Ridge, Virginia, Oct. 31, 2021. She spent 34 years as an Army nurse overcoming all the challenges that came her way. (Photo by Michael A. McCoy)

As a young Army nurse at her first duty station in the intensive care unit at Fort Dix, New Jersey, then U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Clara Leach would go home each day and think about ways to improve her job performance. She was struggling at the time to get her work done and didn't understand why.

Skip subpage navigation
Refine your search
Last Updated: September 06, 2023
Follow us on Instagram Follow us on LinkedIn Follow us on Facebook Follow us on X Follow us on YouTube Sign up on GovDelivery