It wasn’t until 1908 that Congress allowed women to serve in the Navy – as nurses. On May 13th of that year, the Navy Nurse Corps was established.
Women had to have at least two years formal training as “graduate nurses” and also have relevant clinical experience to qualify.
Nineteen women were part of the first nurse contingent,. A 20th, Esther Vorhees Hasson, was a former Army nurse who was tapped to lead the women in the Navy Nurse Corps.
This photograph of the “sacred 20” comes from the collection of the Naval History and Heritage Command.