Radical Woman of the Day: Anna Mae Hays

On this day in 1920 was born Anna Mae Hays, the first woman in the United States Military to be promoted to the rank of general. Graduating from Allentown General Hospital School of Nursing she joined the American Red Cross and volunteered for the Army Nurse Corps when the United States entered World War II after the events of Pearl Harbor.

Deployed to India, Hays spent over two years supporting the U.S. troops building the Ledo Road through the Burmese jungle into China. In April 1945 she was promoted to First Lieutenant, and at the end of the war she decided to remain on active duty. After the outbreak of the Korean War she was stationed at Inchon with the 4th Field Hospital, which saw over 25,000 patients.

Returning from Korea, Hays was assigned as Head Nurse of the ER at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, where she was one of three nurses assigned to President Eisenhower during the 23 days he spent in the hospital for surgery; they remained friends until his death in 1969. By 1963 Hays had been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, and in September of that year she became the Assistant Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Four years later, having been promoted to full Colonel, she was sworn in as Chief. She would remain in that position until her retirement.

During her time heading the Nurse Corps, Hays instituted new training programs and increased the number of nurses deployed internationally, attended the signing of a law that permitted women to be promoted to the rank of general, and saw the end of a policy that automatically discharged female officers when they became pregnant. On June 11, 1970, she was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, along with Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director of the Women’s Army Corps. Hays retired in 1971. She is currently 92.