Dr. Anita (Newcomb) McGee

(1864-1940), first and only female Asst. Surgeon General of the US Army and Founder of the US Army Nurse Corps

Both of Dr. Anita (Newcomb) McGee's parents were well-educated, respected individuals, and this afforded her the opportunity to pursue her education freely. She studied in elite private schools in Washington, D.C.; Cambridge, England; and the Universtiy of Geneva, Switzerland.

 

Anita married William John McGee in 1888; he supported her decision to attend medical school. She earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from Columbian University (later George Washington University) in 1892, completed an internship at the Women's Clinic in Washington, D.C., and studied gynecology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. She operated a private practice for a few years and then withdrew from clinical work in 1895.

 

Dr. McGee became involved in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Women's Anthropological Society of America, and Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). With the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Dr. McGee felt it important to petition Army Surgeon General George M. Sternberg, who intended to use nurses at base hospitals for the first time since the Civil War, to permit only fully qualified nurses to serve. She succeeded with her petition and created a special committee of the DAR to screen nurses, offering approved candidates' services to Sternberg. After organizing approximately 1,600 highly qualified nurses, Dr. McGee was appointed acting Assistant Surgeon General of the Army for the duration of the war, becoming the only woman authorized to wear an officer's uniform. In 1899, she wrote a manual on nursing for the military. At the end of the war, she drafted the legislation that established the U.S. Army Nurse Corps. She also helped found the Society of Spanish-American War Nurses (SSAWN) in 1900 to look after the interests of the Army Nurse Corps, and served as the organization's president for the next six years.

 

Dr. McGee helped the Navy establish a nursing corps circa 1902. During the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, she offered the SSAWN's services to the Japanese government. Spending six months in Japan working beside nurses in that country, McGee was designated "superior of nurses" with the rank of an army officer. For her services, the Japanese government honored her with the Imperial Order of the Sacred Crown. She later briefly lectured on hygiene at the University of California, Berkeley, and for the rest of her life, divided her time between several homes and overseeing her son's education.



[Simon Newcomb (5), Emily Prince (4), Miriam (3), Lewis (2), Heinrich (1)]

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