In January of 1945, President Franklin Delenor Roosevelt shocked many Americans when he announced the dire shortage of Army and Navy nurses.
In the midst of the Second World War, the Army Nurse Corps spent eight months in 1944 trying to recruit an additional 10,000 volunteers, but only managed to enlist 2,000. President Roosevelt addressed this issue, stating, " the present shortage of army nurses is reflected in the undue strain on the existing forces. More than a thousand nurses are now hospitalized, and part of this is due to overwork."
Many nurses in North Dakota felt the nation's call for aid. Elaine Ellison, a retired nurse from Minot, recalls her time as a nurse during World War II: "Nurses were often reminded to think of the profession as a calling - working overtime without a future of great financial reward." However, the President's well-meaning pressure for nurses to gallantly volunteer was not enough for the struggling Army Nurse Corps whose monthly incoming patients rose from 8,500 to 32,000 by 1945.
Therefore on January 9th a Nurses' Draft was proposed. Representative Andrew May of Kentucky introduced a bill calling for an amendment to the Selective Service draft of 1940. It provided for "the registration, selection and induction of every nurse between the ages of 18 and 45 who was registered in the practice of nursing by any state or United States Territory."
The call was heard across the nation, including North Dakota, and on January 19th of 1945 the Minot Daily News's headline announced "Army Demands Nurses' Draft."
This first draft proposal aroused many questions and concerns when it was debated on the floor of the House of Representatives in the spring of 1945. The first draft of the bill largely focused on female recruits only, overlooking male volunteers, as well as African American volunteers. Katherine Densford, then president of the American Nursing Association, proposed amendments that permitted equal consideration for male nurses; and nurse Mabel Straupe addressed Army Surgeon General Norman T. Kirk regarding the 9,000 registered African American nurses, of which the army commissioned only 330.
As the bill was finalized, pertinent social issues were brought into light and addressed, and it passed in the House of Representatives on March 7th. However, before the bill was heard on the Senate floor, Germany surrendered. With V-E day on May 8th, the demand for nurses greatly decreased, and a Nurses' Draft was discarded and never enacted. Nonetheless, the many nurses who serve in the armed forces, yesterday and today, continue in the tradition of selflessness and honor.
Written by Maria Witham
Minot Daily News, January 19, 1945
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