African-American Women in the Military

Who was the first black woman general in the U.S. Army?

Hazel Winifred Johnson (1927–2011) climbed the ranks in the military and became the first black woman general in the U.S. Army, in 1979. She was born in Malvern, Pennsylvania, one of seven children raised on the family farm in West Chester. She knew early that she wanted to be a nurse, and took her first step in this direction when she entered Harlem University School of Nursing in 1950. After receiving her bachelor’s degree, she took a job at a veterans hospital in Philadelphia. She was working there when she joined the army in 1955. In 1960 Johnson achieved the rank of second lieutenant. She found no problems because of her race, and was able to continue her education while in the army, going on to earn degrees from Villanova University (bachelor’s in nursing), Columbia University (master’s in nursing education) and Catholic University (doctorate in educational administration). Johnson progressed steadily in the army, and by the 1970s her rank of colonel made her the highest-ranking black woman in the armed forces. On her way to becoming a general, Johnson held many responsible positions, including serving as assistant dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland and as chief nurse of the U.S. Army Military Command in Korea. She remained chief of the Army Nurse Corps until 1983, when she retired from military service. Johnson turned her attention to teaching after retirement, holding faculty posts first at George Washington University (while also working with the American Nursing Association), and then at George Mason University. Johnson was named Army Nurse of the Year in 1972, and held several honorary doctorate degrees and military awards.


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