It was a time when Rosie the Riveter had competition from Nancy the Nurse.
The Cadet Nurse Corps was a World War II program that rapidly increased the supply of nurses in the United States, transforming the nursing school landscape over a period of a few short years.
As the nation entered into the war in 1941, an existing dearth of nurses quickly grew into a severe shortage. There was a sharp increase in births in 1941 and 1942, the wounded began to arrive from the battlefield, war boom communities required more health services, and a new phenomenon, hospitalization insurance, meant more people could afford medical care.
The government needed to recruit nurses fast. After more modest federal funding programs in 1941 and 1942, the Barton Act of 1943 created the Corps, administered by the U.S. Public Health Service. In the first year, it came armed with a $52 million-plus appropriation from Congress and the mandate to train as many young women as possible through accredited nursing schools nationwide.
The recruiting effort played to the interests of its target audience: young women. First was the guarantee of a completely free, 30-month nursing education and the promise of employment thereafter. But not far behind that was the offer of free winter and summer uniforms. What’s more, the Corps was portrayed as glamorous, with promotional spots in movies, radio ads with male celebrities and eye-catching print advertisements.
The American Hospital Association placed recruiting centers in the more than 1,200 hospitals with accredited nursing programs around the country through a federal contract.
As it did in many industries coming out of the Great Depression, the war enlarged and strengthened nursing schools with an influx of cash, increase in students and the standardization of federal requirements for the program.
By the time the last wartime nurses graduated in 1948, the vast majority in the United States had been trained through the Cadet Nurse Corps.
“Without the tumult of World War II, we might have waited decades more to open our eyes to the bigness of nursing,” said Lucile Petry Leone, who served as the nursing corps commanding officer during the war.