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Jane A. Delano - Superintendent of US Army Nurse Corps

Moya Peterson, RN, PhD, APRN, FNP-C
Assistant Professor
University of Kansas School of Nursing

Jane Delano was born in 1862 at Montour Falls, New York. Her extended family includes President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, through his mother, Sara Delano. She never knew her father; he died of yellow fever in Louisiana while serving in the Union Army and was buried there. After attending Cook Academy in Montour Falls, Delano studied at the Bellevue Hospital School of Nursing in New York City, graduating in 1886.

Nurse Jane A. Delano in Red Cross Uniform
Jane Delano in her Red Cross uniform

In 1891, not yet thirty years of age, she accepted an appointment as Superintendent of Nurses at the University Hospital in Philadelphia. After five years in that position she attended medical school in Buffalo, New York, but decided that being a physician was not what she wanted to do with her life. For a time she was the superintendent at the House of Refuge, “a shelter for wayward girls” on Randall Island in New York City. Then from 1902 until 1906 she was superintendent of the Training School for Nurses at Bellevue Hospital. In the next two years Delano took a brief respite from nursing to care for her dying mother. But in 1908 she stepped back into nursing in an amazing way, almost simultaneously accepting four positions. She became president of the Associated Alumnae and also president of the Board of Directors of the American Journal of Nursing. In 1909 she accepted the chairmanship of the American Red Cross Nursing Service and the superintendency of the U. S. Army Nurse Corps, effectively linking these two organizations for many years. She had joined the Nurse Corps Reserve several years before when a call went out for nurses.

Interestingly, Delano and two friends did not list their ages on their applications because they were all over the 45- year-age limit. Nonetheless, all three were accepted. She determined at that time that the idea of a nursing reserve was of great importance and probably singlehandedly saved the Army Nurse Corps from extinction in its early years before the First World War.

Jane Delano assumed her superintendent’s duties in the U. S. Army Surgeon General’s Office on August 12, 1909, also continuing to devote her energies to the American Red Cross until 1912. Much of the credit for recruiting nurses during the First World War can be given to Jane Delano, whose efforts resulted in enlisting the majority of the 21,480 nurses who served.

Jane A. Delano, Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and Chairman of the National Committee on Red Cross Nursing Service
Jane Delano at her desk

After The Armistice in November 1918 she traveled to France on a Red Cross mission to visit some of the nurses she had recruited. While there she fell ill with acute mastoiditis and died on April 15, 1919, at Base Hospital #8 after surgery. She was buried in Savenay, France, and her funeral cortege included five hundred nurses. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal posthumously and in 1920 her body was exhumed and brought back to the United States and interred in the nurses’ plot at the Arlington National Cemetery. At the top of the hill overlooking that section is a bronze memorial to her and the 296 nurses who lost their lives in World War I.

Jane A. Delano Headstone at Arlington National Cemetery
The Headstone of Jane Delano's grave at Arlington National Cemetery

A woman of erect stature and physical presence matching her unusual intellect and executive ability, she had a warm heart and easily won the respect and affection of nurses she supervised throughout her professional life. She obviously had deep feelings for nursing at its best and sincerely enjoyed the company of nurses in every setting, from the hospital ward to field work, even the supreme challenges of The Great War. Nurses who served under her loved and respected her.

Nurse Headstones in Arlington National Cemetery
The nursing section of Arlington National Cemetery with Jane Delano's Statue on the right atop the hill

Jane Delano was honored many times for her dedication to nursing. She was elected to the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame and there is a Jane Delano Memorial at the Schuyler County Hospital in Dix, New York, displaying many of her medals and awards. Her citation for the Distinguished Service Medal read in part . . . “ She applied her great energy and used her powerful influence among the nurses of the country to secure enrollments in the American Red Cross. Through her great efforts and devotion to duty eighteen thousand seven hundred and thirty-two nurses were secured and transferred to the Army Nurse Corps for service during the war. Thus, she was a great factor in assisting the Medical Department in caring for the sick and wounded.”

Delano Statue in Arlington Cemetery
The statue of Jane Delano that overlooks the nurses' section of Arlington National Cemetery

For further information on Jane Delano please read One Strong Voice. A story of the American Nurses Association by L. Flanagan, and Memories of Jane A. Delano by Mary Clark. Also search the American Red Cross records in the National Archives for the article entitled “Jane A. Delano the Great War nurse, her imperishable contributions to the profession she adorned”. There are numerous sites on the internet with valuable information as well. Images are from the archives of The American Red Cross and from the author.

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