This Day in History: 1945-03-08

Phyllis Mae Dailey, a registered nurse, is inducted as an ensign into the United States Navy Nurse Corps. She graduated from the Lincoln School of Nursing in New York City and studied public health at Teacher’s College, Columbia University. Before joining the Navy, she was denied entrance by the U.S. Air Force. Dailey was the first African American sworn in as a Navy nurse, following changes in Navy recruitment and admittance procedures that had previously excluded black women from joining the Nurse Corps.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, a well known proponent for the change, had 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. 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.