African-American Women in the Military

In what capacities have African-American women served in the military?

During World War II, African-American women served in a number of capacities. Lieutenant Harriet Ida Pickens (d. 1969) and Ensign Frances Eliza Willis were the first to be commissioned in the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). Over four thousand African-American women joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The Army Nurse Corps discouraged black women nurses in many sites, such as field hospitals, hospital ships and trains, and medical transport planes. Black women felt the sting of racial segregation practices in some military units. It was not until 1945 that the Army Nurse Corps, and soon the navy, ceased racial exclusionary practices, but not before the Draft Nurse Bill (H.R. 1284) was introduced in Congress. By the end of the war, some seventy-six thousand black nurses served in hospitals in the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe.


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