British Women Organists – 2 Jun 2019

‘Place aux dames’?
Women Organists in Edwardian England

Writing about ‘Women at the Console’ in the Musical Opinion in 1954, Martin Hawkins noted the conspicuous absence at the beginning of the twentieth century of women organists in any church of importance in England when in competition with males. These women were as always, however, welcome as organists in smaller churches where no man was available. 1 By contrast, women organists had been very much in evidence in the nineteenth century. In Organists in the City of London 1666–1850, Donovan Dawe identifies six women organists in City of London Anglican churches at the beginning of that century. 2 According to Charles Mackeson’s A Guide to the Churches of London and Its Suburbs published annually most years beginning in 1866, just over sixty women played in London area Anglican churches in 1895, the last year of that publication. 3 Yet in The Mirror of Music 1844–1944 Percy Scholes, who identified nine women organists meriting notice in the Musical Times in the 1800s, is strangely silent about female organists after the turn of the century. 4

Many of the women who made names for themselves as organists during the reign of Victoria, opening the door to the organ world wider for those who would follow in their organ shoes, did not live to see the reign of Edward VII or were no longer active as organists. Ann Mounsey Bartholomew (Saint Vedast Foster Lane) had died in 1891; Elizabeth Stirling (All Saints Poplar, Saint Andrew Undershaft) and Eliza Wesley (Saint Katherine Coleman, Saint Margaret Pattens), in 1895. Elizabeth Mounsey (Saint Peter Cornhill) lived until 1905, but deafness ended her organ playing in 1882; and Ann Stainer (Magdalen Hospital Chapel), who lived until 1914, had retired from organ playing in 1899.

The most publicised female organ recitalist at the end of the nineteenth century – Emily Edroff, who was associated with the London Organ School and known for playing the repertoire of French and Belgian composers – disappeared from the press after 1895. Five other organists, however, made news from time to time in the next century, but primarily for aspects of music making other than their organ playing.

Ellen Day (1828–1916), the ‘The Doyen of Lady Organists’, had made her debut as a pianist at age eight and later as a church organist after a few lessons with James Coward, Crystal Palace organist. She served as organist of London churches for forty-five years, twenty-seven of them at Christ Church Victoria Street, Westminster from which she retired in 1910. She also performed in public as a pianist, accompanying her younger brother John, a violinist. 5

Margaret Fowles (1846–1907) began her organ career at age fifteen at Saint James church, Ryde on the Isle of Wight before founding the Ryde Choral Union in 1874, which she conducted for over twenty years. She founded a similar choral union and select string band in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, which she conducted during the last two years of her life.

Theresa Beney (1859–1945), born in Brighton, attended the National Training School of Music on scholarship where she studied organ and piano, then remained in London to forge her career as a professional musician. After her 1880 debut as an organ recitalist at Lancaster Hall, Notting Hill in 1880, Beney passed the examination for Associate of the College of Organists in 1881 and held the church organist post at Christ Church Folkestone for about three years beginning in 1883. Like other musicians eager to get on in their profession, Beney diversified her talent to include accompanying, conducting, teaching and composing in addition to solo organ and piano performances. Two of Beney’s vocal compositions premiered at the Proms in Royal Albert Hall – ‘Song of Victory’ in 1901 and ‘The Boys We Love’ in 1914.

Annie Patterson (1868–1934), a Dublin organist, composer and author, had made history as the first woman to earn a doctorate in music by examination in 1889, from the Royal University of Ireland, two years after earning her Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts from the same university. At the end of the nineteenth century she was conductor of the Dublin Choral Union and an examiner in music for her alma mater, as well as a lecturer in music. In the next century she turned her attention to writing, authoring books on The Story of the Oratorio (1902), Schumann (1903), How to Listen to an Orchestra (1913), and The Profession of Music and How to Prepare for It (1926). Of particular interest is her book Chats with Music-Lovers (1907), which includes sections on how to practise the organ and on hymn playing and a chapter on How to Be an Organist. Patterson concludes her words on ‘good organistship’ with a question, which suggests that prejudice against ‘lady organists’ had not completely been eradicated in the light of her predecessors’ achievements:

Why not give the lady organist as fair a chance of excelling at her art as her brother professional? The physical exertion expended in organ-playing is no more hurtful to a woman than is walking, bicycling, or dancing; and for the anaemic, dyspeptic or cold-footed, no better remedy can exist than the healthful drill of ‘pedalling.’ St Paul’s objection to women speaking or ‘teaching’ in an assembly, if taken literally, would dismiss the sex from class teaching of all kinds – an art at which women often shine. Patience, reverence and tact are all demanded from conductors of church choir practices, and these qualifications are eminently womanly ones. Wherefore – when old-world prejudices as to the ‘unbecomingness’ and ‘undue effort’ attached to the woman organist’s playing shall vanish before more intimate and practical knowledge of the King of Instruments itself – let the lady ‘pulsator’ have, if no favour, at least a fair field for the display of her talents. 6

Mary Layton (1869–1929), who had made her mark in music history in 1872 as the first female Fellow of the Royal College of Organists, was best known in later years as a choral conductor and teacher of singing. She saw choral singing for women as a hopeful and elevating influence of the women’s movement and worked in political and social life to improve the status of women through music. 7

Some lesser-known female organists were still going strong at the beginning of the twentieth century. Mary Kempke, who had been appointed organist to Saint Andrews Bigglesworth in 1853 and Saintt Swithin’s Sandy in 1862, was well on her way to ‘Seventy Years of Service’ on the bench, an accomplishment noted by the Musical Times in 1924. Miss Hutchinson, organist at Cotherstone (Teesdale) Congregational Church, had completed 50 years on the bench in 1917, during which she missed only four services.

But what about the next generation of female organists – those who flourished on the bench during the Edwardian Era 1901–1910? What can we discover about them? I carefully reviewed issues of the Musical Times for those years, seeking material regarding women organists.

Place aux dames!’ – translated ‘Make way for the ladies’ – prefaced a 1901 Musical Times notice of Fräulein Hoeller’s appointment as organist of Würtzburg Cathedral in Bavaria. The phrase seems out of place, given that it was already anachronistic in 1876 when the Musical Standard identified recitalist Elizabeth Stirling as ‘another able exponent at the organ, but (place aux dames), one of the gentler sex’. 8 But since England did not yet have a female cathedral organist – the magazine identified ten ladies serving as cathedral organists in Ireland in 1907 without addressing their absence in England’s cathedrals – Hoeller’s appointment was considered a novelty. Performances of two female organ students of the Royal Academy of Music in 1902 – Mabel Colyer and Alexandra Tallant – elicited the same surprising ‘(place aux dames!)’ remark. Annie Patterson, it seems, wrote from first-hand knowledge: the sex of an organist, if female, was still an issue. That the profession remained ‘an old boy’s club’, was apparent in a notice of the Wakefield and District Organists’ Association annual dinner of 1907, which concluded: ‘May increasing success attend this excellent brotherhood of organists!’ 9

Advertisements and notices in the Musical Times bear this out. The London Organ School, which had welcomed female pupils since its founding in 1865 and which included Emily Edroff on its staff as an organ professor in the 1890s, opened the auditions for its organ scholarship of 1902. And some churches still advertised for a male organist, though the ‘ladies not eligible’ clause from the previous century was no longer used. The Roman Catholic Church of The Sacred Heart Exeter advertised for a ‘Gentleman’ in 1901; an organist wanting to set up a holiday exchange in 1902 assumed that the willing organist would be a man with a wife. One church offered an excellent neighbourhood ‘for a young gentleman about to enter [the] musical profession’ in 1907; and a country church advertised for a ‘Single, young, earnest Churchman’ in 1909. 10

Of the three churches advertising for a lady or gentleman organist in 1908 and 1909, one was Nonconformist, one a small post, and one at Holy Trinity in Florence with the added responsibility of conducting the Ladies Choral Society. The incumbent, Miss Jessie Handley, must have found a suitable temporary replacement, for she moved to Hampstead and the next month advertised for a similar engagement in or near London.

Eight young ladies – Miss Dalley, Miss Ward, a twenty-six-year-old Officer’s daughter, and others identified only by initials – advertised for organist positions between 1901 and 1910. All were experienced with good credentials, most of them appending the requisite initials to their names indicating successful completion of examinations in organ studies through the London College of Music, Royal Academy of Music Metropolitan or Trinity College London. Indeed, as organ students, females seemed to excel. Five were successful candidates for the London College of Music, five for the Royal Academy of Music Metropolitan Examinations, and fifteen for Trinity College London over the ten-year period.

Despite Handley’s A.R.C.O. and L.R.A.M. credentials, female names were not as numerous in the lists of Fellows and Associates of the Royal College of Organists, which counted only five Fellows – Misses Brown, Clarke, Cliff, Cooper and Ibbetson – and five Associates – Misses Finlay, Lucas, Mear, Winkworth of Haughton and Wood – during the Edwardian years. We will hear more of Miss Lucas in the next blog.

We cannot know whether the coveted certificates and the advertisements with their strings of newly acquired credentials had the intended effect of job placement. Only fourteen female names appeared in the lists of Organist Appointments, and the sixteen females playing twenty recitals were far outnumbered by their male colleagues in the lists of Organ Recitals.

In 1904 the Musical Times reiterated its method for compiling the summary of ‘Organ Recitals’ submitted by readers. Because the magazine received such a large number of programmes, they were examined from two points of view – educational and general interest – and ‘vain repetition’ and ‘arrangements’ found no place in the monthly list. Furthermore, space precluded mentioning more than one piece in each programme. 11 It is likely, however, that women organists still were considered novel enough that all of their submitted recital notices would be printed, if not their entire programmes.

Additional women organists played recitals mentioned elsewhere in the magazine and accompanied choral concerts performed in churches, but their number was not great. Mrs Horace Evans accompanied Sterndale Bennett’s cantata the ‘Woman of Samaria’ on the organ in 1910. John Henry Maunder’s cantata ‘Olivet to Calvary’ was in vogue at the time, and many organists must have had the accompaniment neatly under their fingertips, including Mrs Sheppard, sub-organist of the British Embassy Church in Paris. No one name of a woman organist reappears in the Musical Times during these years to indicate a potential rising star in the organ world.

Grace Ivorsen, organist to the Magdalene Hospital Streatham may have realized that she could not earn her living by organ playing alone. Like many musicians, she diversified, and beginning in 1908 through 1910 advertised – ‘Terms moderate’ – as a piano soloist and accompanist and voice and examination coach. She also mentioned her abilities to read manuscripts and full score and to transpose, as well as her knowledge of French, German, Italian and Latin. 12

Not satisfied with the numbers of women organists I was seeing – or not seeing – in the ten years of Edward VII’s reign, I extended my search through 1913 and ultimately through the years of the First World War. I present those findings in my next blog.

To be continued


1     Martin Hawkins, ‘Women at the Console’, Musical Opinion 77 (May 1954): 495.
2     Donovan Dawe, Organists of the City of London 1666 – 1850 (Padstow: By the Author, 1983).
3     For more about women organists in Victorian England, see Judith Barger, Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate, 2007). The book is currently out of print, but copies are available in libraries and from used booksellers.
4      Percy A. Scholes, The Mirror of Music 1844 – 1944: A Century of Musical Life in Britain as Reflected in the Pages of the Musical Times, 2 vols (London: Novello, 1947).
5    ‘The Doyen of Lady Organists’, Musical Times 50 (1 Sep 1909): 587; see also ‘Lady Organists, and One in Particular – Miss Ellen Day’, Musical Times 50 (1 Mar 1909): 163–69.
6      Annie W. Patterson, Chats with Music-Lovers (Philadelphia: Lippincott, London: T. Werner Laurie, 1907), 136–137.
7      ‘Choral Singing: A Chat with Mary Layton’, Daily Chronicle, 28 Mar 1912.
8      ‘Bow and Bromley Institute’, Musical Standard n.s. 11 (4 Nov 1876): 290.
9      ‘Wakefield and District Organists’ Association’, Musical Times, 1 Feb 1907: 101.
10    ‘Organist and Choirmaster Wanted’, Musical Times 48 (1 Mar 1907): 147; ‘Organist and Choirmaster Wanted’, Musical Times 50 (1 May 1909): 294.
11     ‘Organ Recitals’, Musical Times, 1 Jan 1904: 30.
12    See, for example, ‘Miss Ivorson, A.R.A.M., A.R.C.M.’, Musical Times 49 (1 Aug 1908): 498.


British Women Organists – 28 Apr 2019

Elizabeth Stirling
(26 February 1819 – 25 March 1895)

Many years ago when researching Samuel Wesley and the introduction of Bach’s organ music into England, I came across the name of Elizabeth Stirling in connection with a recital she gave of Bach’s major organ works at Saint Katherine’s, Regent’s Park, London in 1837. The critic for the Musical World praised the “extraordinary, almost unrivalled talent” of the eighteen-year-old recitalist, “received with general astonishment,” and added: “We hope to see justice done to Miss Stirling. The prejudice against lady organists cannot remain, with such an example opposed to it.” 1 My desire to learn more about this remarkable organist with an apparently phenomenal pedal technique led to doctoral research culminating in my book Elizabeth Stirling and the Musical Life of Female Organists in Nineteenth-Century England (Ashgate 2007).

At age twelve Stirling began organ lessons with William B. Wilson in Greenwich, where she was born and raised. When her family moved to Poplar a year later, she continued her organ studies with Edward Holmes, organist at All Saints Poplar, where Stirling later held the organist post beginning in 1839. Stirling studied harmony privately with James Alexander Hamilton and with George MacFarren and in 1856 aspired to an Oxford degree in music denied her because no precedent existed for awarding a degree to a woman. Stirling nevertheless continued her music career and was remembered in the Church Musician shortly after her death as “the only lady organist who ever got near ‘front rank’ excellence.” 2 She was elected organist of Saint Andrew Undershaft in the City of London in 1858, married Frederick Albert Bridge in 1863, collaborated with him on popular entertainments as pianist, was actively involved as organist for the popular Tonic Sol-fa Association, and began composing for voice and for organ. Her part song “All among the Barley” was widely sung throughout the British Isles. Her Six Pedal Fugues and Eight Slow Movements for organ were much publicized and apparently played by England’s organists. Both collections are available in modern editions edited by Barbara Owens (Belwin-Mills 1984) and by Barbara Harbach (Vivace 1995). Stirling’s organ works, which show the musical influence of Bach and Mendelssohn, were favorably reviewed and put her in the vanguard of England’s modern composers for the organ, securing her legacy, however modest, in music.

Although the best known “lady organist,” Stirling was one of hundreds of women in nineteenth-century England who served as organists in England’s churches throughout the nineteenth century despite a number of churches that declared “ladies not eligible” for the position. Their accomplishments are an inspiration to organists who followed in their footsteps.

Until recently, the only known photograph of Stirling, taken by her husband who had started a photographic business in 1870, appeared in an obituary printed in The Musical Herald. 3

In December 2018, I received a copy of a photograph of a woman organist, which organist Stephen Best sent in hopes that I could identify her. He had purchased the photograph-postcard from a person who did not know where he had found it. Comparison of the two photographs suggest that Best’s photograph is indeed of Elizabeth Stirling, most likely on the organ bench at Saint Andrew Undershaft where she held the organist post from 1858 to 1880.


1 “Organ Performance,”‘ Musical World 6 (1837): 174.
2 “Elizabeth Stirling,” Church Musician 5 (1895): 86.
3 “Elizabeth Stirling,” Musical Herald no. 566 (1895): 149.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 6 Apr 2019

World War II Flight Nurses Identified

Flight Nurses Anna Ranahan, Grace Dunnam, Dolly Vinsant, and Jean Tierney
of the 806 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron, circa 1943

Until recently I had identified by name only two of the four World War II flight nurses pictured on the cover of Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II. All four were assigned to the 806 Medical Air Evacuation Squadron [MAES], which was sent to the United Kingdom in July 1943 in preparation for D Day, after which they flew across the English Channel to evacuate wounded soldiers from France. Grace Wichtendahl née Dunnam, second from left in the photo, was chief nurse of the squadron. Wilma J. “Dolly” Shea, née Vinsant, third from left, was killed in action over Germany in April 1945 in a weather-related accident when the C-47 in which she was traveling to pick up patients for air evacuation crashed into a mountain.

The flight nurse on the far left is Anna G. Ranahan, who died shortly after World War II. * On the far right is Winna Jean Tierney neé Foley, who goes by “Jean” and is very much alive at age 97. I chatted with Jean by telephone recently; she is a delightful woman whose memory for her flight nurse years has not faded over time. She had finished reading Beyond the Call of Duty for the second time the previous night, and was excited to “meet” the book’s author and relay her surprise at seeing herself on the front cover. She thinks the photo was taken either at Fort Bragg or at Pope Field during maneuvers. Since the flight nurses are wearing wings on their uniforms, the photo would have been taken after graduation from the flight nurse course before shipment overseas.

From 1984 through 2016, Jean and her husband Ed, who flew C-47s during the war, returned to Normandy every other year for Memorial Day and D Day observances.

Armed Forces Radio interview with Ed and Jean Tierney after Memorial Day
Ceremony at the American Cemetery in Normandy, circa 2016
(Courtesy Francis Hellmann)

* Anna Grace Ranahan, who went by “Ranny” when in the 806 MAES, died in 1977.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 16 Mar 2019

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 8

Flight nursing in the United States Army Air Forces had become a reality when the 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron left Bowman Field, Kentucky on Christmas Day 1942 for flying duty overseas in North Africa. Lauretta Schimmoler’s Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA), however, never really “got off the ground”. Despite Schimmoler’s pronouncement to ANCOA member Leora B. Stroup in January 1942 that “ANCOA shall never die,” the organization apparently did die a slow death after the outbreak of World War II when, as part of the national defense program, civilian aircraft were removed from the west coast to inland bases, thus eliminating ANCOA training flights, and a hold was placed on air shows. 1 ANCOA nurses who were by regulation members of the American Red Cross First Reserve were mobilized for active duty with the military. Some of them, including Stroup, served with distinction as flight nurses with the Army Air Forces – some one hundred of them, according to an uncorroborated newspaper account. 2 Schimmoler, in her early forties by then, was past the age limit for government flying in the WASP [Women Airforce Service Pilots] program. 3 By Schimmoler’s account, she was apparently recommended for an appointment in the WAAC [Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps] prior to June 1942 but chose not to consider it, because she was completing a course on aircraft engines and was holding out for civilian rather than military wartime service. 4 Not being a nurse, military flight nursing was not an option for her.

In fact, the closest Schimmoler came to being a flight nurse was on the big screen with the 1942 release of “Parachute Nurse”, a Columbia Pictures film for which she was technical director. In this wartime melodrama, nurses are in training for a newly formed corps of parachute nurses to be dropped at sites inaccessible to medical care. Schimmoler was cast in the role of Jane Morgan, Commander of the Parachute Corps, “a very efficient, good-looking, plump, graying, motherly sort of woman, with a hardboiled exterior and a heart as big as her frame, which is ample”. 5 Sixty-two ANCOA members of Los Angeles Company A, First Division were used in the marching scenes. 6 Schimmoler’s personal correspondence suggests that she dreamed of follow-on movie contracts as a character actress, based in part no doubt on the “One-Take Schimmoler” moniker she won when scenes in which she appeared did not have to be retaken several times as is often the case. 7 The Hollywood Reporter did not ensure Schimmoler’s potential success in Tinsel Town, however, when in its review of “Parachute Nurse” she was included only among those nameless others having “lesser chances to score”. 8

Marching scene from movie Parachute Nurse [USAF Photo]

Careful not to imply that the story was based on an actual military unit, the Foreword to the film stressed,

This story is pure fiction, but the idea is real and vital. There are no Parachute Nurses attached to the Army today, there are none doing the actual training in jumping, but there is a Paranurse Division of the Medical Department of the Aviation Emergency Corps and the part these Paranurses may play in the defense of and aid to the United States may make the fiction of today the reality of tomorrow.

To the gallant women now engaged in the formation of this Division, this picture is affectionately and respectfully dedicated. 9

Off the movie set, Schimmoler had researched the idea of parachute nurses as a possible opportunity for ANCOA but, as she told RN magazine, “even with the present war developments, it seems unnecessary for women nurses to run the risks of being dragged in rough terrain, of being impaled in a tree, in landing in water, or of suffering some other casualty”. 10 She then hinted of the movie soon to be released: “No doubt in coming months there will be publicity stunts built around the idea of parachute nurse – perhaps even a movie featuring them, but it seems to me that it will only be practical to train parachute nurses when there is an actual shortage of manpower.” 11

After her film debut, with ANCOA no longer a viable civilian organization, Schimmoler closed her offices in Burbank, turned her clerical staff over to the War Operations Center of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and considered her next step. Not willing to sever her connections with aviation, she worked first as an air traffic controller trainee for the Civil Aeronautics Administration in 1942 and as an inspector for the United States Navy Bureau of Aeronautics in 1943 before enlisting in the Army as a WAC [Women’s Army Corps] in 1944. After completing basic training in Des Moines, Iowa, Private Schimmoler was sent to California’s Fairfield-Suisun Army Air Base – renamed Travis Air Force Base in 1951 – where she was assigned duty in base operations as a dispatcher, “since they could not find a place for me to serve direct in Air Evac”. 12 Schimmoler was alone on duty one night in 1944 when the first C–54 Skymaster air evacuation flight from the Pacific Theater of Operations touched down safely on her watch. She recalled that being present for the arrival of this plane “was gratification which no amount of money could purchase”. 13 She continued: “When the first stretcher made its appearance in the open door of the plane and they began to move slowly down the ladder, I was overcome by it all for the moment. I said aloud, ‘And they said it wouldn’t be done.’” 14 It may have been a bittersweet moment for Schimmoler, however, to see that her dream had become a reality – but not for ANCOA.

In an unpublished autobiographical manuscript, Schimmoler recalled when Mickie [Matilda] Grinevich, a former ANCOA nurse who later served on air evacuation duty with the military, “bestowed an unexpected honor on me when she removed the wings from her uniform and said, ‘Lauretta, I want you to have these as a momento [sic] of our pioneering days together.’” 15 Real-life recognition of Schimmoler and ANCOA by the military came at last in 1966. During the thirty-seventh annual meeting of the Aerospace Medical Association, Lieutenant General Richard Bohannon, Surgeon General of the United States Air Force, presented Schimmoler, who was a guest at the luncheon of the Flight Nurse Section, an honorary United States Air Force flight nurse certificate and flight nurse wings. 16


1          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 17 Jan 1942; Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to H.A. Coleman, 22 Mar 1945.
2          Katherine V. Sinks, “Aviatrix Joins Air Wacs,” Glendale (California) News-Press, 27 July 1944.
3          Dora D. Strother, “The W.A.S.P. Program: An Historical Synopsis,” AF Museum Research Division, Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, Apr 1972, 11. [AFHRA K220.0721–19] The cut-off age was 35.
4          Lauretta Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 26 Jun 1942.
5          James Rian, “Parachute Nurse,” revised final draft of screenplay, Columbia Pictures, 6 Mar 1942, 13. [Bucyrus, OH Historical Society]
6          Schimmoler, letter to Stroup, 17 Jan 1942; Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 5 Mar 1942; Lida Dolan for Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Leora Stroup, 2 Apr 1942; Lauretta Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 26 Jun 1942.
7          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Frank, 13 Apr 1942; Esther Smith, “Ex-Bucyrus Airport Manager Turns to Movies,” Mansfield News-Journal, 16 Aug 1942. The recipient may have been F.L. Hopley of Bucyrus, OH.
8          “’Parachute Nurse’ Timely; ‘Halfway to Shanghai’ Fair,” Hollywood Reporter, 8 (Sep 1942): 4.
9          Rian, “Parachute Nurse,” n.p.
10       “Parachute Nurses?” RN 5 (Feb 1942): 56.
11       Ibid., 56, 58.
12       Lauretta M. Schimmoler, “The Story of How It All Began: ‘And They Said It Wouldn’t Be Done’,” unpublished manuscript, n.d., 8.[Bucyrus, OH Historical Society]
13       Ibid., 8–9.
14       Ibid., 9.
15       Ibid., 7. Matilda D. Grinevich was a career Air Force nurse who had several air evacuation assignments; her first was with the 801 MAES in the Pacific in World War II.
16       “Lauretta Schimmoler Receives Honorary U.S. Air Force Flight Nurse Certificate and Wings,” Aerospace Medical Association, 37th Annual Meeting, Las Vegas, Nevada, press release, 20 Apr 1966; “Miss Schimmoler Awarded Honorary Flight Nurse Certificate and Wings,” Journal of Aerospace Medicine 37 (Jul 1966): 757, 759.


Former ANCOA nurses Leora Stroup, Eileen Newbeck, Margaret Gudoba, and Matilda Grinevich all served as flight nurses in the US Army Air Forces in World War II. To learn how the dream of flight nursing as part of air evacuation in the US military became a reality, see Beyond the Call of Duty: Army Flight Nursing in World War II (Kent State University Press, 2013).

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Feb 2019

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 7

Undeterred by the American Nurses Association (ANA) rejection of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA), Schimmoler again set her sights on military support of the ANCOA. In July 1942, with approximately 400 of her ANCOA nurses on duty with the armed forces, Schimmoler corresponded with Brigadier General David N. W. Grant, Air Surgeon for the Army Air Forces, United States Army:

David N.W. Grant, Air Surgeon, Army Air Forces [USAF Photo]

Frankly, General, I have almost begun to think that I am another Billy Mitchell. I have not, however, given up hope that some how some way that your department will embark upon the creation of a school for nurses for air ambulance duty and that we [ANCOA] might be accorded the consideration of doing our part in the operations of this school. I feel this department should be separate apart from the regular Army Nurse Corps and be attached as a special unit of the Air Forces. …

      There isn’t a question in my mind, with the interest there exists in this field, that if we had the support and authority needed, that we could create an Air ambulance unit that you could well be proud of. 1

In his reply Grant informed Schimmoler that

      The question of aerial evacuation with the armed forces is now in the formative stage. Nurses will be assigned from the Army Nurse Corps for this work. Many nurses who have had prior experience with the airlines are available for this purpose. Evacuation, as contemplated, is of the mass type during actual combat.

      There are many vacancies in the Army Nurse Corps, which members of your association can join. Nurses are not being recruited specifically for aerial duty, but are being earmarked for this duty when the need arises. …

      I hope this answers your question. 2

A month later, Grant and members of the Army Surgeon General’s Office accepted a plan for a workable air evacuation system designed by Colonel Wood S. Woolford, the first Air Transport Command (ATC) Surgeon. Grant submitted the plan to the Air Staff in July 1942 and received approval to begin its implementation. Because of a shortage of airplanes, the plan incorporated the evacuation of casualties into the duties of the Troop Carrier Command whose tactical mission was to fly men and equipment into combat areas and of the ATC responsible for strategic flights between overseas locations and the United States. These transport planes, when outfitted with litter installations, could be converted into air ambulances for the return trip once troops and cargo were offloaded, putting to humanitarian use planes that would have returned to their bases empty. An interesting feature of Woolford’s plan was the employment of 103 female flight nurses. 3 At the time, only females served as Army nurses. Although the Army had male nurses, they were not commissioned as officers but rather were classified as nurses at the induction centers and assigned in the Medical Department of the Army as enlisted medical technicians. 4 Like the Army nurses assigned to ground medical facilities, the flight nurses would hold the relative initial rank and wear the insignia of second lieutenant. Not until 10 July 1944 did a presidential Executive Order appoint nurses as commissioned officers of the United States Army with the corresponding rights, benefits, and privileges accorded male officers.

Over the next five months, events happened quickly in the development of the air evacuation system in which Army flight nurses would participate. In September 1942 the 38th Medical Air Ambulance Squadron, a “paperwork” organization initially numbering only one officer and a few enlisted men that had been activated at Fort Benning, Georgia the previous May, was transferred to Bowman Field in Louisville, Kentucky. Bowman Field was chosen because of its proximity to the First Troop Carrier Command headquarters in Indianapolis just over a hundred miles north and because it already had some facilities in place as the former site of the Medical Officer Training School. 5

Upon its arrival, the squadron, now counting two officers and 138 enlisted men among its personnel, was assigned to the First Troop Carrier Command, which had been delegated responsibility for organizing and training air evacuation groups, and was attached to the base hospital. The 38th Medical Air Ambulance Squadron, which became part of the Army Air Forces, was re-designated the 507th Air Evacuation Squadron, Heavy, three days later and served as the nucleus for the air evacuation system. Flight nurses were among the 507th personnel. The 349th Air Evacuation Group activated at Bowman Field on 7 October incorporated the 507th Air Evacuation Squadron, Heavy, and three new units – the 620th and 621st Air Evacuation Squadrons, Heavy, and the 622nd Air Evacuation Squadron, Light, all activated on 11 November. 6 “Heavy” squadrons were those that would fly multi-engine cargo transport planes; the “Light” squadrons were to have their own smaller single-engine airplanes capable of carrying no more than three patients. The “Light” squadron idea was abandoned eventually, because these planes were going to the Navy rather than to the Army Air Forces. 7 Table of Organization 8-447 issued in tentative form in November 1942 and finalized in February of the next year established the Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron with a headquarters section that included commanding flight nurse and chief nurse; and four evacuation flights of six flight nurses and six enlisted surgical technicians, each flight commanded by a flight surgeon. Flight teams consisting of one flight nurse and one surgical technician were to be placed aboard transport planes as needed, and when personnel were short or when casualty loads exceeded available teams, the flight nurse and the surgical technician could fly in separate planes. 8

The Army Surgeon General, who was always short of nurses, opposed the decision to use female flight nurses, but the Air Surgeon felt that flight nurses should be used in the air evacuation program, since they were the most highly trained medical personnel available for these missions. After the war, Colonel Erhling Bergquist, who had been Command Surgeon for the Ninth Troop Carrier Command and later for the First Troop Carrier Command in Europe during the war, defended the decision: “We felt that if in this country a group of healthy individuals could fly around in commercial airlines having a nurse attend them, our wounded certainly were entitled to the same consideration.” 9 He was referring to the airline policy before the war to hire only registered nurses as flight attendants. When the need for nurses to work in civilian hospitals and to serve in the armed forces became urgent during World War II, the airlines substituted college education for a nursing diploma as a prerequisite for work as a stewardess. 10

During the months when the air evacuation program was being organized, the Office of the Air Surgeon received letters from nurses inquiring about air evacuation duty. United Airline stewardesses from California, a nurse from New York who was working toward her private pilot’s license, nurses from Georgia, Louisiana, and Nebraska, and a congressman in Washington, DC – likely on behalf of some of his constituents – all wrote to the Air Surgeon to request applications for and particulars about this new field of nursing. Replies contained essentially the same information: All nurses for air evacuation units would be obtained from nurses of the Army Nurse Corps, and to be eligible for air evacuation duty, a nurse must enter the Army Nurse Corps through the usual channels. Nurses were not accepted exclusively for air ambulance work, but volunteers would be assigned to this duty at a later date when the need arose. War Department Memorandum No. W40-10-42 dated 21 December 1942 spelled out the qualifications for air evacuation nurses and the application procedure to be followed. Only those applicants who were members of the Army Nurse Corps would be favorably considered. Applicants had to be twenty-one to thirty-six years old with a weight between 105 and 135 pounds, had to be physically qualified for flying, and had to certify willingness “to be placed under orders requiring frequent and regular participation in aerial flights”. 11

Starting in October 1942, marriage did not make a nurse ineligible for military service. Single nurses who married while on active duty remained in the military at the discretion of the Surgeon General and, generally speaking, only physical disability and incompetence were grounds for dismissal. By the end of the year, married nurses who met all other requirements for military service could join the Army Nurse Corps. Every nurse agreed to serve for the duration of the war plus six months. By default, a married nurse retained her maiden name while in service unless she specifically requested a name change. 12

As the war continued, the need for an air evacuation system overseas became more urgent. At Bowman Field on 10 December 1942 the 507th, 620th, and 621st Aeromedical Evacuation Squadrons, Heavy, were re-designated the 801st, 802nd, and 803rd Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadrons [MAETS] as outlined in Table of Organization 8-447. 13 The 801st and 802nd squadrons, which included flight nurses among their members, were hastily trained in the essentials of air evacuation – an “admittedly meager and inadequate” preparation for the work ahead. 14 One 802 MAETS flight nurse recalled that at Bowman Field

The curriculum was nowhere near complete – except for Chemical Warfare – “GAS will be used in this war” was repeated time and again and with emphasis by Captain Gray – and we learned all there was about the recognition of the various gases, how to put on a gas mask and how to treat patients who were contaminated. That class, physical exercises, and marching rounded out our brief education. 15

On Christmas Day 1942 the first of these squadrons, the 802 MAETS, departed Bowman Field for North Africa to provide air evacuation support for the Tunisian Campaign. 16 Former stewardess Ellen Church, now recovered from an automobile accident and a lieutenant in the United States Army, was among the flight nurses in that organization. 17 Just over three weeks later the 801 MAETS left Bowman Field for the South Pacific where American troops were still engaged in the battle of Guadalcanal. 18 Flight nursing in the United States Army Air Forces had become a reality.

To be continued


1          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to David N.W. Grant, 24 Jul 1942.
2          David N. W. Grant, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 3 Aug 1942.
3          Wood S. Woolford, letter to Victor A. Byrne, 17 Jul 1942. [AFHRA 280.93–5]; “History of the School of Air Evacuation,” 1 Aug 1943, 2-4. [AFHRA 280.93–3]; “History of the School of Air Evacuation,” n.d., in “School of Air Evacuation,” Army Air Base, Bowman Field, KY, 9 Dec 1940–Apr 1944; Jan 1944–Jun 1945, 1-3. [AFHRA 280.93–12 v.2]; Robert F. Futrell, Development of Aeromedical Evacuation in the USAF, 1909–1960. Historical Studies No. 23 (Maxwell AFB, AL: USAF Historical Division, Research Studies Institute, Air University; Manhattan, KS: Military Affairs/Aerospace Historian, 1960), 73–74.
4          “Men Nurses and the Armed Services,” American Journal of Nursing 43 (Dec 1943): 1066–69.
5          Mae M. Link and Hubert A. Coleman, Medical Support of the Army Air Forces in World War II (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1955), 367.
6          “Medical History, I Troop Carrier Command,” 30 Apr 1942–31 Dec 1944, 50–52. [AFHRA 250.740]
7          Ibid.; “History of the School of Air Evacuation,” 1 Aug 1943, 2–4. [AFHRA 280.93–3]; Futrell, Aeromedical Evacuation, 73–74.
8          Frederick R. Guilford and Burton J. Soboroff, “Air Evacuation: An Historical Review,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 18 (Dec 1947): 609; Futrell, Aeromedical Evacuation, 78–79; “Medical Air Evacuation Transport Squadron,” Table of Organization No. 447, War Department, Washington, DC, 15 Feb 1943.
9          Erling Berquist [Ehrling Bergquist], “Discussion,” in David N. W. Grant, “Air Evacuation Activities,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 18 (Feb–Dec 1947): 182–83.
10        “Fly Again!” RN (Dec 1945): 40; “Nurses Released From Airline Positions,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 108 (Mar 1942): 207–208; “Discontinued for the Duration,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 108 (Apr 1942): 268; “War-Time Needs Come First,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Apr 1942): 449–50; “Airline Nurse Stewardesses Released,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (May 1942): 577–78.
11       “Nurses for Air Evacuation Service,” Memorandum No. W40-10–42, War Department, Adjutant General’s Office, 21 Dec 1942.
12       “Married Nurses Retained in the Army,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Nov 1942): 1322; “Married Nurses for the Army Nurse Corps,” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Dec 1942): 1451; “Married Nurses in the Army,” American Journal of Nursing 43 (Apr 1943): 306.
13       “Post Diary,” Air Base Headquarters, Bowman Field, Louisville, KY, Dec 1940–Aug 1945, 49. [AFHRA 280.93–1]
14       Futrell, Aeromedical Evacuation, 80.
15       Clara Morrey Murphy, “First unabridged rough draft of Symposium speech, Nov 12, 1992, 50th Anniversary.” [AMEDD]
16       “Medical History, 802nd Medical Air Evacuation Squadron,” 10 Dec 1942–30 Jun 1944, [1]. [AFHRA MED-802-HI]
17       Church, who had been chief stewardess for Boeing Air Transport for eighteen months, was grounded following an automobile accident.
18       “Post Diary,” Air Base Headquarters, Bowman Field, Louisville, KY, Dec 1940–Aug 1945, 51. [AFHRA 280.93–1]



World War II Army Flight Nurses – 12 Jan 2019

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 6

To avoid possible misunderstandings of Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA) activities, by 1939 its founder, pilot Loretta Schimmoler, had appointed a registered nurse, Ruth G. Mitchell, as Chief of Staff. In August 1939 Mitchell explained to delegates of the California State Nurses’ Association meeting in San Francisco, “This has always been the plan of the Founder to have some one direct the Nursing activities and thus to meet all the requirements of the Nursing standards.” She emphasized, “This is wholly a nursing project and is designed to serve the daily needs of the public through aeronautical means,” glossing over the fact that Schimmoler was a pilot but not a nurse. After reviewing how and why ANCOA was founded and reiterating its aims, Mitchell outlined a plan to forge a link between ANCOA and the state nurses’ associations:

Advisory Councillors are to be chosen in each State and will thereby represent her respective State Nurses Association. They will act as advisors within the ranks of the Aerial Nurse Corps on professional requirements, as well as mediators within the Association for future demands to be made in aviation for the safety of the nurse, the patient and the aircraft operator.

She then recommended that the California State Nurses’ Association establish an advisory council to investigate ANCOA, accept it as a nursing project, and endorse its activities. Recognition by the American Nurses Association (ANA) was the ultimate goal:

The passing of the recent Nurse Practice Act gives the California State Nurses Association the right to determine who is qualified to care for the sick on land, in hospitals, homes etc., and it is only logical for them to also determine who is qualified to care for the sick in the air and for all aviation activities. The establishing of this Advisory Council for the Aerial Nurse Corps will make this possible and through the council the standards for future aeronautical nursing will thus be determined by a recognized nursing board. 1

While Mitchell was courting the California State Nurses’ Association, Mary Beard, Director of Nursing of the American Red Cross (ARC), continued to express her concern about ANCOA activities. She presented a report on that organization at a meeting of the Board of Directors for the ANA in January 1940, carefully pointing out that Schimmoler, who founded ANCOA, was not a nurse. After stating the purposes of ANCOA and summarizing facts on the organization gleaned from the literature and from correspondence, Beard stressed that

      There is no connection, formal or informal, between the American National Red Cross and the Aerial Nurse Corps of America, Inc. This should be borne in mind, inasmuch as one may read in the pamphlet from which I have just been quoting such a statement as the following: “The Aerial Nurse Corps should be called into service through the American Red Cross, the Army, the Navy, or any other civic or military group placed in charge at the time the emergency should arise.”

Concerning Schimmoler’s attempts to receive the backing of the ANA, Beard wrote:

In at least two of the states an approach has been made to the state nurses’ association, and these state nurses’ associations have considered the appointment of an advisory committee on the ANCOA. I am unable to say whether or not such advisory committees are now active, or even that they were ever actually appointed.

Beard closed her report with a reference to the military’s view on flight nursing:

On more than one occasion during the past two years there have been conferences about aerial nursing between the representatives of the Army Nurse Corps, the Navy Nurse Corps, and the American Red Cross. Each time the Nursing Service of the Red Cross has been assured that neither the Army nor the Navy wishes to request any special action in regard to the services of nurses in the air. 2

As recommended by Mitchell, the California State Nurses’ Association appointed an Advisory Committee to ANCOA. A copy of the committee report on ANCOA letterhead dated 14 October 1940 reflects the influence of the ambitious Schimmoler in its list of seven recommendations that included:

1. We recommend the approval and recognition of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America for the development of an aviation department for the nursing profession under the National Defense Program.

2. Recommendation to the C.S.N.A. for the formal approval of the standards and enrollment of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America which includes membership in the American Nurses Association and the American Red Cross Nursing Service.

3. Recommendation for the creation of an Aerial Nurse Corps roster in the Red Cross Nursing files for any and all forms of aviation duty for national emergency under the direction of the American Red Cross.

Across the top of a copy of the recommendations Badger had written “Miss Beard – This is the one I refused to sign. GLB.” 3

Badger, who was a member of the advisory committee, sent Beard copies of recent correspondence between herself and Schimmoler. “I think that great confusion exists and in my letter I have tried to clarify my position as a member of the Advisory Committee which was appointed by the California State Nurses’ Association,” Badger explained. 4 Writing to Badger, Schimmoler had implied that Emily K. Eck, the chairman of a Special Committee appointed by the ANA, had asked her – Schimmoler – to appoint a committee to confer with this Special Committee. Schimmoler continued:

Inasmuch as they have asked us to appoint a committee to confer with the Special Committee in the ANA, and inasmuch as we already have a functioning committee in the CSNA – ANCOA Advisory Committee, we believe it is only fitting and proper that this Committee represent ANCOA before the A.N.A. Committee. 5

Badger’s reply to Schimmoler left no doubt as to her own feelings on the matter:

It is evident there is confusion regarding the relationship of the C.S.N.A. Advisory Committee to the A.N.C.O.A. and of its individual members.

First of all, I wish to make clear my relationship to the A.N.C.O.A. by stating the following facts:

I am a member of the California State Nurses’ Association and as such I was appointed by the State Association on the Advisory Committee to the A.N.C.O.A. I am not a member of the A.N.C.O.A.

From your letter it is my understanding that the chairman of a Special Committee appointed by the American Nurses’ Association has written you, asking you to appoint a committee to confer with this Special Committee. It would seem to me that such a committee is intended to be composed of members of the A.N.C.O.A.

In view of the above, I am returning unsigned the recommendations which you attached for my signature. 6

In wording similar to that found in the 14 October 1940 report, one of the six recommendations to which Badger referred included “The creation of an Aerial Nurse Corps roster in the American Red Cross Nursing files for any and all forms of aviation duty in national emergency under the direction of the American Red Cross Nursing Service”. 7 In a 30 October letter to Beard in which Badger enclosed these recommendations dated 26 October, Badger shared yet another way in which Schimmoler was trying to situate her organization under the aegis of the ARC – and was “working the crowd”:

In talking to some of the younger nurses during the California State Nurses’ Convention I was told that Miss Schimmoler had suggested that when they send their applications to us for enrollment they indicate that they would prefer service in the Aerial Nurse Corps. I explained to the nurses that their applications would be returned to them since at present the only provision we have is for a Reserve for the Army and Navy. 8

The Special Committee of the ANA to confer with the ANCOA met on several occasions. It reviewed correspondence with ANCOA as well as organizational and other aviation literature. The chair of the committee, Emily Eck, provided an outline of content for the training of aviation nurses. 9 The committee members consulted airline company officials and arranged conferences with several people, among them the superintendents of the Army and Navy nurse corps. Of particular interest in the notes that Dunbar forwarded to Beard was the report that Schimmoler apparently was willing to step down from her leadership position of ANCOA and leave it in the hands of nurses as soon as she felt that the organization could take care of itself. Schimmoler was not likely to disappear from the scene, however, as Dunbar explained:

The nurses in the group are quite concerned to find the proper way for Miss Schimmoler to continue to give what they consider her great contribution, especially in the field of the construction of aeroplanes for transporting sick people safely. A great deal was made of the fact that the ideal place for Miss Schimmoler would be on a national advisory committee to the Red Cross on the use of planes in disaster. 10

After very careful consideration of the information obtained, the Special Committee of the ANA to confer with the ANCOA made the following recommendations:

I. That formal recognition of the ANCOA in its efforts to develop aviation instruction and training for the nursing profession, be withheld for the following reasons:

(a) The ANCOA is non-professional in that its president is a lay person person – not a nurse. …

(b) The training which the ANCOA nurses are receiving at the present time, in the opinion of the committee, does not prepare them adequately for the nursing service they would be expected to render in the event of disaster. …

II. That in view of the above recommendations, the ANA advise that the State Advisory Committees to the ANCOA, which have been appointed, be dissolved.

III. That if the ANCOA should reorganize and select as its president, a qualified nurse, the ANA consider ways and means of developing a close affiliation with that organization.

IV. That a short course of instruction designed to prepare graduate nurses for nursing service in the air, be made available to qualified nurses. …

V. That the National League of Nursing Education be asked to develop an outline for such a course.

VI. That the outline be sent to the American Red Cross for trial in several of the Red Cross Chapters to determine its effectiveness.

VII. That recommendation IV be referred to the Nursing Council on National Defense.

VIII. That the American Red Cross be requested to organize a Reserve of nurses, qualified to constitute an organized group for any and all forms of nursing duties in aviation, in the event of civic or national emergencies. 11

The Special Committee of the ANA to confer with the ANCOA submitted its report to Julia C. Stimson, President of the ANA, on 16 May 1941.

About a week later, Schimmoler appointed Leora Stroup as president of ANCOA. Eileen Newbeck was named to fill Stroup’s position as Detroit Company commander. “CONGRATULATIONS AND SINCEREST GOOD WISHES FOR EVERY SUCCESS AS YOU TAKE OVER WHERE I LEAVE OFF” read a telegram from Schimmoler to Stroup on 24 May 1941, which continued:


Leora B. Stroup [US Army Medical Dept Museum]

Stroup then submitted a reorganization plan for ANCOA that included the following changes:

1. The organization to be an all-nurse group.
2. Emphasis on greater coordination with all local and national defense organizations.
3. More State Nursing Association Committees as Advisory Committees.
4. A simple form of Constitution and By-Laws adopted to fit the present emergency needs.
5. An effort for increased membership.
6. Lowered membership fees.
7. Simplification of clerical procedures, for leaders of local groups.
8. Monthly educational mimeographed publication on aviation nursing, research and current events to all members.
9. Consideration of the courses of study by local Leagues of Nursing Education with a view toward help and approval.
10. A conference of the nurse-leaders of the Great Lakes area this month.
11. Submitting the new set-up of the organization to the ANA Special Committee to get their help, guidance and support.
12. Formal approval by the Board of Directors of the American Nurses Association. 13

In yet another effort to comply with ANA directives, Schimmoler established the Aviation Emergency Corps, a ground staff of clerks, radio operators, first aid workers, and other women with some experience in the flying industry, separate from the all-nurse component of ANCOA. The newly designated organization would apply itself to home defense by augmenting emergency services at all airports, landing fields, and aircraft factories with persons adequately trained in both aviation and emergency work “in the event of disaster or attempted destruction in time of war”. 14

The Civil Air Patrol, which had been created in December 1941 as a non-combat voluntary auxiliary of the United States military, was another focus of ANCOA collaboration. Stroup, who was the deputy medical officer of the Detroit women’s squadron of the Civil Air Patrol, one of her “pet projects” in aviation, likely used that platform to coordinate ANCOA activities with this national defense organization. By 1942 ANCOA members had joined the ranks of the Civil Air Patrol but maintained some degree of autonomy by gaining permission to wear their own uniforms on which Civil Air Patrol insignia was displayed. 15

With the intent to make more educational resources available for aerial nurses, in the fall of 1941 Stroup began corresponding with Major Harry G. Armstrong, Commandant of the School of Aviation Medicine at Randolph Field, Texas and author of Principles and Practice of Aviation Medicine (1939), about adapting the book for the use of ANCOA nurses. With a conditional go-ahead from his publishers, Armstrong gave thought to how the book might be revised. Both he and Stroup must have had second thoughts about their collaboration, however, for Armstrong declared himself unwilling to commit definitely to preparing the book until he had read the outline proposed by Stroup for her chapter on the place of nurses in aviation medicine. Stroup, in the meantime, had been so swamped with work that she was unable to follow through on her contribution to the book. The project apparently was dropped. 16

Changes made in the ANCOA organization were likely too little, too late. The ANA did not revisit the status of ANCOA. Whether this had anything to do with a possible rift between Schimmoler and Stroup involving the ANCOA presidency to which Ruth Nichols of Relief Wings alluded in a letter to Harriet Fleming in 1942 is uncertain. Nichols wrote: “Miss Schimmoler also advised me that a Miss Stroop [sic] from Detroit, who had been appointed president because it was required by the A.N.A. to have a registered nurse head such an organization, had resigned and as she put it, threw the responsibility back in her lap and that she, Miss Schimmoler, was again President!” A letter from Schimmoler to Stroup in June 1942 implies a possible “falling out”: “I had not heard from you for so long that I begin [sic] to think that I would never hear from you again, and sincerely, Leora, I have never had anything to crush me as much as our break in friendship.” 17

Perhaps the lingering discontent of ANA leaders with ANCOA was not only that Schimmoler was not a nurse, but also that, as was the case with Relief Wings, ANCOA threatened to exert unwarranted control over the limited number of nurses available for wartime needs. And the need to mobilize the ARC First Reserve of nurses for military service and to fill resulting civilian vacancies would have taken precedence over continued study of the ANCOA situation. With articles such as “American Nurses – We Are at War!”, “First Reserve Quotas!”, “Nurses, to the Colors!”, and “The Time Is Now!” appearing in 1942 in the American Journal of Nursing, the ANA clearly had more pressing issues occupying its time.

Schimmoler had failed in her efforts to achieve formal ANCOA recognition by the professional nurse organization. Ultimately the rivalry between the two organizations was “much ado about nothing”. But the deliberations and decisions of nurse leaders of the ARC and the ANA concerning Schimmoler and ANCOA offer insight into how nurses sought to maintain control of their profession as America headed toward its involvement in World War II.

To be continued


1          Ruth G. Mitchell, “The Aerial Nurse Corps of America,” speech given at Meeting of Delegates of the California State Nurses Association, San Francisco, 15 Aug 1939, 4.
2          Mary Beard, “The Aerial Nurse Corps of America, Inc.,” 23 Jan 1940.
3          “Report of the Committee of C.S.N.A.-Advisory Council for A.N.C.O.A.,” 14 Oct 1940.
4          Ida F. Badger, letter to Mary Beard, 30 Oct 1940.
5         Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Ida F. Badger, 28 Oct 1940.
6         Ida F. Badger, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 30 Oct 1940.
7         Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Ruth G. Mitchell, 26 Oct 1940.
8         Gladyce L. Badger, letter to Mary Beard, 30 Oct 1940.
9         Emily K. Eck, “Course Outline for Aviation Nursing,” [3 May 1941].
10       Virginia M. Dunbar, “Notes on meeting of Aerial Nurse Corps, Saturday, May 3, 1941.”
11       “Special Committee of the ANA to Confer with the Aerial Nurse Corps of America Report.’” [16 May 1941].
12       “Sent to Detroit News Announcing The Annual Dance of the Detroit Group,” 5 Apr 1941.
13       Leora B. Stroup, “Tentative Reorganization Plans,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America, n.d.; Nichols, letter to Fleming, 16 Feb 1942.
14       “The Aerial Nurse Corps of America Announces – Aviation Emergency Corps,” n.d; “Denver Plans to Have Its Own Unit of Aerial Nursing Corps,” Denver Post, 31 Jan 1941.
15       John F. Curry, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 26 Jan 1942.
16       Leora B. Stroup, letter to Harry G. Armstrong, 11 Oct 1941; Harry G. Armstrong, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 24 Oct 1941; E.F. Williams, letter to Harry G. Armstrong, 31 Oct 1941; Harry G. Armstrong, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 12 Nov 1941; Leora B. Stroup, letter to Harry G. Armstrong, 19 Nov 1941; Harry G. Armstrong, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 24 Nov 1941; Leora B. Stroup, letter to Harry G. Armstrong, 10 Jan 1942.
17       Ruth Nichols, letter to Harriet Fleming, 16 Feb 1942; Lauretta Schimmoler, letter to Leora B. Stroup, 26 Jun 1942.




World War II Army Flight Nurses – 24 Dec 2018

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 5

Leaders of the American Red Cross (ARC) had been following the activities of pilot Lauretta Schimmoler and the Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA) closely ever since her organization had “gotten off the ground” in the 1930s. Officials of the ARC questioned Schimmoler’s motives. First, she continued to imply a connection between the two organizations when in fact the ANCOA was in no way connected with the ARC. Second, Schimmoler was a pilot, not a nurse. Third, she had made enrollment in the First Reserve of the ARC a requirement for membership in the ANCOA. And fourth, Schimmoler had not actually communicated with ARC National Headquarters concerning her organization until 1937. As will be seen below, however, this last point is open to question. These issues were the topics of much correspondence among ARC personnel beginning that same year.

“My Dear Mrs. Carter”, wrote Ida F. Butler, Director of Nursing for the ARC, to the Chief of the Nursing Division, League of Red Cross Societies in Paris, on 30 August 1937, “It is pleasant to receive a letter from you and I am particularly interested in its contents about this Aerial Nurse Corps of America because it has not yet been officially recognized by the American Nurses’ Association, in fact I am quite sure that the President and Founder, Lauretta M. Schimmoler, is not a nurse.”

Butler told Carter that she had written to Mrs. Alma H. Scott, Director of the American Nurses’ Association [ANA], at her New York headquarters not only on the question of the ARC recognizing the ANCOA but also “whether the ANA would take any cognizance of the organization”. Butler’s letter to Carter continued:

The first correspondence indicated that they were going to call the Corps the “American Red Cross of the Air” and, of course, I immediately discussed this with our Legal Advisor because we would not have permitted that title to be used but I notice that they are calling it the “Aerial Nurse Corps of America” so the Red Cross has no reason for complaint except that I believe we should be consulted before they use the membership in the American Red Cross Nursing Service as one of their requirements for an appointment. 1

A few days later on 3 September 1937, Butler wrote to Gladyce L. Badger, Director of Nursing for the Pacific Branch of the ARC, to see if Badger could secure additional information on the ANCOA, particularly an application form. The ARC legal advisor, Mr. Hughes, had advised Butler not to write to Schimmoler directly, as the letter “might be construed and might be used for publicity in a way of which we would not approve”. 2 Because of her position on the Board of Directors of the ANA, Butler had been allowed to read all the confidential information on this organization on file at the Headquarters Office of the ANA in New York City, Butler confided to Badger:

Among the letters on file was one from Miss Nellie Porter who has, I believe, held prominent positions in the California State Nurses’ Association. Miss Porter informs us that the woman in question is a promoter, while lacking culture and education [she] seems to have a certain amount of personality. … I find that among the requirements for admission to the Aerial Nurse Corps is enrollment in the Red Cross Nursing Service. They also require the candidates to have had our courses in First Aid and Life Saving.

In spite of all this there has never been any informational material or any correspondence from Miss Schimmoler. The Army Nurse Corps has also been interested because the name which this organization has taken uses the initials of the Corps “A.N.C.” Also in dividing up the country into Aerial Corps territories they have used “Corps Areas” which is the Army term for the division of the states into Army Corps Areas. 3

On the surface, Butler espoused the official stand of the Army Nurse Corps and the ARC concerning the ANCOA but confidentially shared her own view with Badger that

we have all decided that at the present time we have no interest and certainly no “case” against this organization. Though confidentially I think we might have stepped into this breech and made an offer ahead of this woman to help the commercial planes in selecting well trained nurses for this service. 4

Butler then shared with Carter what she had learned during her visit to the National Headquarters of the ANA:

For your confidential information, I have seen a great deal of correspondence, especially from the Secretary of the California State Nurses’ Association which throws considerable light on the organizer of the [Aerial Nurse] Corps. She is not a nurse, is a great promoter with the ability to attract because of her personality but she is not a woman of either culture or education and it is a very great surprise to me that nurses with high standards of education and enrolled in the Red Cross Nursing Service would be willing to organize with a leader who is not one of their professional group.

After consultation with Mrs. Scott, I have decided to discuss with our Legal Advisor, Mr. Hughes, whether I would in any way be entangling the Red Cross if I were to write to the promoter of this organization, Miss Lauretta M. Schimmoler, expressing my surprise that she would not have communicated with the Director of the Red Cross Nursing Service before making through her literature the requirement that she had made enrollment in the Red Cross Nursing Service one of the requirements for membership in the Corps, and also the requirement that the applicant shall have had the Red Cross First Aid and Life Saving Course. I will make the letter, of course, as friendly as possible and ask for further information as we are interested. 5                

Butler then told Carter that she had spoken with Major Julia C. Flikke, Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, about the similarity of the Aerial Nurse Corps to the Army organization. Butler’s understanding was that Flikke had been advised by her commanding officer “that at the present time they should ignore the [ANCOA] organization and not raise the question of the confusion that may eventually ensue because of the use of Army terms”. 6

Writing to medical historian Hubert A. Coleman in March 1945 about the Aerial Nurse Corps of America, Schimmoler recalled that she had communicated with the ARC as early as 1932 in a letter to Clara Noyes, Director of the ARC Nursing Service to inquire

if I were to assemble a number of nurses for the purpose of giving them aeronautical training to equip them for air ambulance duties, if I would be contributing to the service of my country. I was informed that it was doubtful that nurses would ever fly, if so they would probably fly in government airplanes and would not require special training. 7

The wording of Schimmoler’s letter to and reply from Noyes, as Schimmoler later remembered it, resembles the wording of a letter and its reply that she recalled in a separate undated account of ANCOA written after 1944 in which she asked the Army Nursing Service: “’If I were to interest nurses and train them for air duty, would I be rendering my country a service?’ The reply stated in part, ‘I don’t think nurses will ever fly, and if they do, they will fly in government airplanes and won’t need any special training’.” 8  

Whether or not Schimmoler actually had corresponded with the ARC in the 1930s, the growing distress over the activities of Schimmoler and the ANCOA prompted Butler to discuss the matter with the Chairman of the ARC, Admiral Cary T. Grayson. At his request, Butler drafted a letter for his signature to the Surgeon General of the Army, Major General Charles R. Reynolds, stating that the Red Cross stood ready to organize an aerial corps of their nurses if the Surgeon General thought it would be a good plan toward preparedness. 9 Reynolds’s reply discouraged pursuing this option for the time being:

At the present time we look upon nursing in connection with Air Corps activities as a specialty only comparable with certain other features of surgical nursing and do not believe that a special corps of aerial nurses should be trained in the military service or in civil life, especially by an organization independent of the American Red Cross.

We recognize the fact that the airplane will be used as a transportation agency in time of war and it may be that especially in the secondary evacuation in the rear area or the theater of operations and in home territory there may be a need for specially trained nurses. However, this need will not exist, in my opinion, in the combat zone, or at least the employment of women nurses for front line evacuation will not be required. 10

He did recommend, however, that he and Grayson discuss the matter in more detail “first to provide adequately and reasonably to meet known conditions or those to be expected and, more particularly, to forestall activities on the part of unaffiliated auxiliaries in this country in the field which offers more romance than war has ever seen before”. 11

A few months later Schimmoler, who continued to seek Army recognition of the ANCOA, appealed to Major Flikke for support. In her letter Schimmoler included a four-page summary of the objectives and accomplishments of the ANCOA and ended her correspondence with the hope

that this statement of our work and objectives will be of interest to you and convince you that the work warrants your good will. Your suggestions and cooperation are invited, to assist the patriotic young women of this organization to better equip themselves to assist in furthering the interests of commercial aviation in time of peace, and providing for them a definite palce [sic] in the scheme of national defense in the event of a major national emergency. Your suggestions on this last phase of our work are particularly desirable. 12

Flikke’s reply to Schimmoler was not encouraging:

It is of course an undisputed fact that aerial travel is of very vital importance and will become increasingly more so in the future. From your letter and other information that has come to me unofficially during the past few months, it would seem that you have a very well planned organization and if the motive is to care for commercial and aerial transportation, your success is no doubt assured.

In the Army, however, we have a well organized corps of nurses and flying is not unknown to them. I venture to say that the majority of them have experienced the thrill of traveling by air, and when necessary to transport a patient from one section of the country to a hospital some distance away, a doctor and a nurse board a plane and accompany the patient. To us a nurse on a transport plane is like any nurse having a special assignment; such as being a surgical nurse, anesthetist, laboratory technician, etc. In times of peace very few calls are made for such assignments and if we should become involved in a conflict of some kind, any well trained nurse to whom air travel is not distasteful could be so assigned, so that at the present time at least there seems to be no factual justification for a group of nurses being segregated and called aerial nurses. Nor does it seem advisable to have two organizations with such similar nomenclature that confusion may result therefrom.

As you know, the reserve nurses for the Federal services have always been supplied by the American Red Cross – a practice which we hope will always obtain. Perfect harmony and co-operation exist between the Army, Navy and Red Cross, and efficient service has always been rendered. 13


Julia Flikke [US Govt Photo]

Again, military recognition of the ANCOA was not granted. Flikke made it clear that the similarity between Schimmoler’s organization and that of the Army was not appreciated. Furthermore, the letter reiterated that nurses supplied to the Army for any military need would come from the ARC First Reserve, not from the ANCOA. Flikke apparently had sent a copy of her letter to Schimmoler, as well as information about the ANCOA, to Butler of the ARC who replied, “After reading it, I am very skeptical about the soundness of the organization and I believe that you and I are following the safe course in not committing ourselves. Your letter in reply to Miss Schimmoler’s was very fine.” 14 

The rejection of her coveted goals only made Schimmoler more determined to succeed, as Mary Beard, who had succeeded Butler as Director of Nursing of the ARC, soon discovered. In a letter to Mr. Hughes, the legal advisor, Beard expressed her concern that the ANCOA organization’s activities

have been growing more and more aggressive. Miss Schimmoler, who is not a nurse, is being almost Deified as the great founder of this organization. The disconcerting thing is that she is using the Red Cross to advertise her project, using it in little “un-get-at-able” ways such as a notice of a meeting, when on the first line appears “Red Cross Nurses” and then in smaller print “are interested in ***.”

Rather recently we have heard of active efforts to organize in New York where an enrolled Red Cross nurse is helping to promote it. Miss Schimmoler is trying to get a large group within her Aerial Nurse Corps of America to enroll in the Red Cross first reserve. This, of course, is a laudable idea but not when it promotes a nurse reserve outside the Red Cross and which is growing so fast. You remember we consulted both the Army and Navy to know whether they wanted the Red Cross to go in for this sort of a reserve for them and they said no. Would you be willing to talk with me about it again? 15

Beard must have heard directly from Schimmoler shortly thereafter, because a memo from Beard to Hughes dated a month later expressed the double bind in which Beard found herself regarding manipulative tactics employed by the ANCOA leader:

Miss Schimmoler seems determined to “draw” us in regard to this aerial service.

1. If we reply to this letter approving of what these nurses are doing, she will undoubtedly give publicity to this approval.

2. If we do not approve it, she will publish this disapproval and I do not like either position.

      I shall be very grateful for your help. 16

Shortly thereafter, Virginia Dunbar,Beard’s assistant at ARC Headquarters, compiled a summary of statements made about the ANCOA in literature and letters, which she sent to her boss, shedding additional light on Schimmoler’s public relations efforts on behalf of her organization. Dunbar’s cover letter revealed her own opinion on the matter:

As I read all of the material of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America (Newspaper clippings, letters, printed bulletins, etc.) I was impressed with the number of references to the Red Cross. Some of the notices were very short so that a reference to the Red Cross stood out. I felt that the statements were decidedly misleading as they certainly inferred a connection with the Red Cross (and the Army). 17

Armed with the latest information on ANCOA, Beard wrote Schimmoler, stressing the separateness of the two organizations and the role of the Red Cross alone to provide nurses for the military, even for aviation duty:

You were kind enough also to give us assurances of the desire of your group to cooperate fully with our society. There is, we believe, a practical method in which this cooperation may be made effective, namely by exercising constant care to have the public fully appreciate the special and separate fields in which both of our organizations are engaged. As you know, we maintain a reserve of nurses who may be needed for duty with the United States Army and Navy. If and when there be need by these branches of the Government for nurses especially trained in aviation matters, the Red Cross will proceed promptly to meet this need.

In the meantime, it would be unfortunate if those directly connected with nursing and the public in general did not clearly understand the respective services which both of our organizations are fostering. 18

To be continued


1          Ida F. Butler, letter to Mrs. Maynard L. Carter, 30 Aug 1937.
2          Ida F. Butler, letter to Gladyce L.Badger, 3 Sep 1937.
3          Ibid.
4          Ibid.
5          Ida F. Butler, letter to Mrs. Maynard Carter, 17 Sep 1937.
6          Ibid.
7          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to H.A. Coleman, 22 Mar 1945.
8          Lauretta M. Schimmoler, “The Story of How It All Began: ‘And They Said It Wouldn’t Be Done’,” unpublished manuscript, n.d., 4. [Bucyrus, OH Historical Society]
9         Cary T. Grayson, letter to Charles R. Reynolds, 25 Oct 1937.
10       Charles R. Reynolds, letter to Cary T. Grayson, 29 Oct 1937.
11       Ibid.
12       Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to Julia O. Flikke, 23 Apr 1938.
13       Julia O. Flikke, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 29 Apr 1938.
14       Ida F. Butler, letter to Julia O. Flikke, 28 May 1938.
15       Mary Beard, letter to Mr. Hughes, 31 Mar 1939.
16       Mary Beard, letter to Mr. Hughes, 1 May 1939.
17       Virginia M. Dunbar, letter to Mary Beard, 1 Jun 1939.
18       Mary Beard, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 7 Jul 1939.

World War II Army Flight Nurses – 1 Dec 2018

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 4

Detroit Company A of the Third Wing, Fifth Division was one of the more active Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA) units. 1 Its success may be attributed in large part to the efforts of Company Commander Captain Leora B. Stroup. A registered nurse employed in nursing education, Stroup knew when she saw the female pilots at the National Air Races in Cleveland in 1929 that she, too, wanted to fly. A few years later in 1933 she earned her pilot’s license at the Cleveland Airport, where she met pilot and ANCOA founder Lauretta Schimmoler and, like Schimmoler, later was inducted later into the Ninety-Nines, the national organization of licensed women pilots. 2 Stroup was also a member of the Civil Air Patrol and the National Aeronautic Association and held national offices in ANCOA, serving first as its treasurer and quartermaster and later as its director of nursing. In 1941 Schimmoler appointed Stroup ANCOA president.

ANCOA nurse Margaret Gudobba (left) and Eileen Newbeck (right)
display new flag [USAF Photo]

Stroup described the Detroit Company of ANCOA, the first in the mid-west, as one of her “pet projects”, and by 1939 the company had its full quota of fifty-six women of whom thirty were registered nurses. 3 The rest of the women served supportive roles in first aid and communications. Members met every Wednesday night in the Saint Joseph’s Hospital Training School auditorium for their classes and on Sunday afternoons at the local airport where they made flights with Stroup or with an Army reserve pilot who was assisting the ANCOA unit. Eight of the nurses were themselves pilots, but piloting planes was not an ANCOA duty. Rather, members were taught enough about aviation to determine by ground inspection whether a plane was airworthy and were taught about weather conditions relevant to flight as well. 4

Eileen Newbeck, a member of Detroit Company A, recalled:

We did have a group of Aerial Nurse Corps members. It was controlled by the group over in California, Leora Stroup was the captain of our group. We had military rank. We wore uniforms. It was a grey-blue uniform. We wore a regular overseas cap. We did first aid in the area at all the air meets, whether it was the model air meets and or whether we went up to Cleveland and did the first aid at the National Air Races. We met every month, and we were connected with an airfield. And if there were any patients in the area that needed movement to hospitals or back home, we took them by air. 5

What Newbeck remembers about ANCOA confirms information found in organizational literature and in the press at the time. On the lighter side, ANCOA members had a social life as well. Dancing seemed to be a favorite activity, and Company A was no exception. Newbeck made news in the local paper as the chairman of the committee planning a dance in 1940 to raise money for the national membership campaign. The spring dance appeared to be an annual event not only in Detroit, but also in Dayton, where the first annual aviation ball of the Dayton Tri-Flyers Club, which included ANCOA Company C of Fifth Division, in 1940 drew 500 people and in Los Angeles, where Company A of the First Wing, First Division was sponsor of the annual aviation ball for 1939, in which all aviation organizations in Southern California participated. 6

Declining membership in ANCOA in general and in Detroit Company A in particular may have been a problem as early as 1939, for Stroup told a reporter for the Detroit Evening Times that “the corps served as a recruiting agency for airline hostesses. The Detroit unit has already lost one member to an airline and is about to lose another”. 7 A year later Margaret Quinn, a private duty nurse in Detroit Company A, wrote to the War Department, Michigan Military Area, indicating her willingness to serve her country as part of the United States Army Air Corps, citing her air ambulance work as justification. 8 The wording in this letter suggests the possibility of an ANCOA campaign to seek military flight nurse positions for its members. By 1941 ANCOA had lost Quinn to the United States Army as a nurse stationed at Fort Custer in Michigan. 9 In his January 1941 reply to a letter from Stroup, John G. Slevin, Medical Officer for the United States Army, Headquarters Michigan Military Area, told her that “No doubt, within the next year the first Reserve will be badly depleted by call to extended active duty with the Army. Hence, your organization will lose many of its present members.” He suggested that the ANCOA should continue to function, filling its ranks with American Red Cross (ARC) Second Reserve nurses as an important valuable aid to home defense work. 10

With units like Detroit Company A leading the way, by 1936 the ANCOA had become an active organization, and in 1937 Schimmoler, who was its president and national commander, began to contact key personnel in the United States Army to seek recognition of her flight nurse organization. Schimmoler went straight to the top in an apparent effort to discuss her plans with Brigadier General Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, Acting Chief of the Air Corps, who replied:

Just a note to express my regret that I didn’t get a chance to see you while out on the Coast and talk over the program of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America. I hope, however, to discuss the subject with you in detail. I believe there is a place in the scheme of things for such an organization, but just what that place is I will be unable to definitely decide until I know more of the details. 11

Although Schimmoler surely found encouragement in this initial correspondence, it was destined to be short-lived, for a month later when Arnold had learned more of the details, he advised her:

I do believe, however, that inasmuch as the American Red Cross has been designated by law (Army Regulation 850-75) that this organization is in effect in time of emergency an auxiliary aid to the Medical Department of the Army, it would be advisable that you should work in conjunction with that organization. 12

Arnold enclosed a copy of Army Regulation 850-75 “Employment of American National Red Cross” to acquaint Schimmoler with the provisions of this regulation. Arnold’s advice apparently had come indirectly from Major Julia O. Flikke, Army Nurse Corps Superintendent. When Arnold asked Colonel Malcolm C. Grow, Chief of the Medical Section, to draft a reply, Grow in turn sought input from Flikke, whose memo to him used wording that Arnold incorporated into his final letter. Not appearing in Arnold’s letter was Flikke’s belief that “Miss Schimmoler’s plan is very complete and would be of great value if it could be used but it would conflict with the present set up if carried on independently.” 13

Army Regulation 850-75 stated that

The Red Cross serving with the armed forces and under the orders of the President is the only voluntary society authorized to render aid to the Medical Department of the Army. Any other society desiring to render similar aid can do so only through the Red Cross. 14

It was under the aegis of this regulation that the ARC worked closely with the Army Nurse Corps to recruit nurses for service in the Army. Nurses enrolled in the First Reserve of the ARC constituted the pool of qualified applicants from which nurses were drawn to expand the nursing service of the Army as needed. Requirements for enrollment in the ARC First Reserve were stated in that organization’s literature. 15

To be continued


1          Jean Pearson, “Detroiter Receives Ideal Job,” Detroit Free Press, 6 Oct 1942.
2          “’Flying Nurses’ Train Here for Defense,” Detroit Evening Times, 2 Feb 1939.
3          Mary Eileen Newbeck Christian, interview with author, St. Petersburg, FL, 21 May 1986.
4          Margaret Gudobba, “Michigan Great Lakes Breezes,” ANCOA Flashes 3 (Mar 1940), 6; “Plans Dance,” Detroit Free Press, 27 Apr 1940; Hilda Lackner, “Ohio Air City News,” ANCOA Flashes 3 (Mar 1940), 4; Ruby Lilly, “California Sunshine Co. A – 1st Div.,” ANCOA Flashes 3 (Mar 1940), 7.
5          “’Flying Nurses,’” 2 Feb 1939.
6          Margaret Quinn, letter to War Department, Michigan Military Area, 14 Oct 1940.
7          “Sent to Detroit News Announcing The Annual Dance of the Detroit Group,” 5 Apr 1941.
8          Margaret Quinn, letter to War Department, Michigan Military Area, 14 Oct 1940.
9          “Sent to Detroit News Announcing The Annual Dance of the Detroit Group,” 5 Apr 1941.
10       John G. Slevin, letter to Leora Stroup, 16 Jan 1941.
11       H.H. [Henry H] Arnold, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 27 Sep 1937.
12       Henry H. Arnold, letter to Lauretta M. Schimmoler, 20 Oct 1937.
13       Julia O. Flikke, memo to Malcolm C. Grow, 11 Oct 1937. Grow’s full title was Chief Flight Surgeon in the Office of the Chief of the Army Air Corps.
14       “Employment of American National Red Cross,” Army Regulation No. 850-75, 30 Jun 1943. (Supersedes Army Regulation 850–75, 30 Aug 1926), 4–5.
15       American Red Cross Nursing Service (Abridged) (Washington, DC: The American Red Cross, May 1942), 6.





World War II Army Flight Nurses – 10 Nov 2018

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 3

Lauretta Schimmoler, a pilot who in the 1930s founded the flight nurse organization Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA) independent of the other service organizations such as the United States Army and the American Red Cross (ARC), nevertheless intended that ANCOA would become the air unit of the ARC, which in turn provided nurses for the military.

Although a civilian organization, the ANCOA was organized according to military command structure, with national headquarters in Burbank, California. ANCOA was divided into three wings based at Burbank Union Air Terminal, Newark, New Jersey Airport, and Cleveland, Ohio Municipal Airport that were subdivided into nine divisions throughout the United States in Burbank, San Antonio, Omaha, Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Baltimore, Newark, and Boston. Each division corresponded to corps area boundaries found in the United States Army. The divisions were further subdivided into companies. The military analogy went even further. Members of ANCOA were assigned rank commensurate with their position. The national commander held the rank of colonel, a lieutenant colonel commanded a wing, a major commanded a division, and a captain commanded a company.

ANCOA National Commander Lauretta Schimmoler
[US Army Medical Dept Museum]

Most of the nurses held the rank of first or second lieutenant, or cadet, which was the lowest grade for a registered nurse. 1 As organizational literature stressed, however, “These titles are used only within the organization, set up for greater discipline for members working together as a women’s organization. They are purely honorary.” 2 Should a member put too much stock in her quasi-military status, she need only remember the organization’s Ten Commandments to restore her sense of perspective. An ANCOA nurse, she learned,

  1. is honorable
  2. is loyal, congenial, cooperative
  3. is prompt, thorough, dependable, reliable
  4. is always dignified, never loud or boisterous
  5. is true to her religion
  6. always respects her superiors and never fails to keep a promise
  7. never complains about anything
  8. never desecrates her uniform
  9. never reveals confidences
  10. shows conduct, character, and integrity always above reproach. 3

Like their military counterparts, those ANCOA nurses who met the qualifications took an oath of office “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Aerial Nurse Corps of America against all their enemies whomsoever” and “to bear true faith and allegiance to the same”. 4 The oath-taking took on the fervor of a religious ceremony. In the presence of the American flag and at least two ANCOA members, the recruit took a ten-question pledge to which she responded “I am” or “I do.”

  1. Are you serious and sincere about your enlistment?
  2. Do you promise to study the Regulations and live up to them?
  3. Do you promise to preserve them?
  4. Do you promise to read all orders, and communications and endeavor to comply with them to the best of your ability?
  5. Do you promise to be loyal to your Flag and the members of the Corps?
  6. Do you promise to relinquish all properties belonging to the Aerial Nurse Corps of America, when being discharged or reassigned?
  7. Do you promise to notify your Captain when ill or unable to attend? Giving reason.
  8. Do you promise to obtain a Furlough when being absent for a period of more than 3 meetings?
  9. Do you promise to carry out all instructions and assignments to the best of your ability?
  10. Do you promise to apprize commanding officers regarding characters of individuals being recruited when you know their character will be harmful to your organization?

Upon your HONOR in the presence of these Witnesses you have promised to be faithful and uphold the principles and Regulations of the Aerial Nurse Corps of America.

The recruit then repeated the oath of office, the words of which differed slightly in various ANCOA documents:

“I, [recruit repeats name] do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America and to the Aerial Nurse Corps of America and do hereby acknowledge to have voluntarily accepted enlistment for three years in the Aerial Nurse Corps of America, unless sooner discharged by proper authorities; and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies whomsoever and that I will obey the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations, So Help me God!” 5

An ANCOA nurse was required to be a single female American citizen between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-five with a height between five feet two inches and five feet eight inches inclusive and a weight corresponding to her age and height. She had to pass a physical examination to determine her fitness for air duty. The applicant was also required to be a member of her state nurses’ association and a member of the First Reserve of the American Red Cross, which provided the pool of applicants from which military nurses were drawn.

Nurses joining ANCOA served on “active duty” during which time they agreed to perform nursing duties in any airworthy aircraft. They also were required to attend two-hour classes and lectures one night each week divided into medical subjects the first year, aeronautical subjects the second year, and theoretical subjects the third year. Training Bulletin Number 2 and other ANCOA literature provided a course schedule covering 150 weeks of work that in addition to the above general subjects also covered chemical warfare, first aid, drill, and the ANCOA Regulations Manual in year one; ambulance technique and regulations and radio-telephone communications in year two; and surveys of airports and aircraft, establishment of aviation medical centers, and company management in year three. All members had to pass an examination of the ANCOA Regulations Manual with a score of at least 80 within the first six months of membership and had to hold a third-grade radio-telephone operator’s license. 6 After six months, having made the necessary passing score on the Regulations Manual examination, the new nurses were placed on the active duty roster and were promoted from cadet to second lieutenant. With the promotion in rank, these nurses were authorized to wear the blue-grey ANCOA uniform with its overseas cap and military-like insignia. 7 In 1938 Joseph Panitz and Company of Los Angeles manufactured and furnished the ANCOA uniforms; Hollywood Uniform Company of Los Angeles provided the official uniform for Aerial Nurse Corps and Aviation Emergency Corps members around 1941. 8

Unlike military nursing, work as an ANCOA nurse was not full time but rather was limited to part-time volunteer participation in evening classes and weekend activities that included providing first aid for national air races and smaller air events. Occasionally ANCOA nurses would accompany a patient on a flight to provide nursing care en route. Members held other jobs as nurses and paid for the privilege of being part of ANCOA with a five-dollar enrollment fee and monthly dues of fifty cents. 9

Schimmoler’s optimistic goal of ten thousand ANCOA nurses trained and ready, reported in a 1941 issue of Trained Nurse and Hospital Review, was unrealistic given the projected need of ten thousand nurses for the Army Nurse Corps alone as the United States headed into war. 10 Equally unrealistic was Schimmoler’s undated prediction that within ten years there would be an adequate supply of ANCOA nurses for aviation duty. 11 Nor were companies of aerial nurses established in every large city in the United States as Shimmoler had hoped. 12 Yet in its early days ANCOA showed a modest growth as companies were formed – twelve of them by 1940 – and others planned in several large cities: Bakersfield, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco, California; Denver, Colorado; Fort Lauderdale and Sarasota, Florida; Chicago and Decatur, Illinois; Louisville, Kentucky; Detroit, Michigan; Omaha, Nebraska; New York City; Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Dayton, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; Johnstown, Pennsylvania; Memphis, Tennessee; El Paso, Texas; Seattle, Washington; and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 13 By April 1941 ANCOA had chapters in twenty-two cities in eleven states. 14 Writing to medical historian Hubert A Coleman in 1945, Schimmoler cited the formation of fourteen companies over a four-year period and a roster “to date” numbering between six and seven hundred ANCOA members, approximately seventy-five of them non-nurses. 15

Seemingly unlimited in ways to expand ANCOA activities, Schimmoler reached out in 1940 to women who for whatever reason could not qualify for ANCOA membership in its current departments. National headquarters daily received “many letters from young and old alike requesting information and an opportunity to be of service to the Aerial Nurse Corps and aviation”. 16 The answer, Schimmoler decided, was to create a Junior Section and a Second Reserve. An Auxiliary also was planned that would establish Hangar Departments in each city where an ANCOA company existed. As stated in a press release,

The purpose of the Hangar Departments is to provide the Aerial Nurse Corps of America with the necessary equipment and supplies to be used in airplanes and on airports in any emergency. Research in this field indicates that certain ground supplies cannot be used to good advantage in airplanes because of dimensions and weights. 17

In her eagerness not to turn away applicants, however, Schimmoler may have weakened her original intent to “develop a technically trained Corps of RESERVE NURSES … qualified for all forms of air duty”, particularly for military purposes. 18

To be continued


1          Aerial Nurse Corps, Regulations Manual (Los Angeles, Burbank, CA: Schimmoler, 1940), 4–5, 45, 47–48.
2          Leora B. Stroup, “What is the Aerial Nurse Corps of America?” n.d., 2.
3          “Ten Commandments of an Aerial Nurse,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America Memorandum, 20 Jun 1938.
4          “Aerial Nurse Corps,” brochure, n.d., 4.
5          “Pledge of Allegiance to the United States of America and the Aerial Nurse Corps,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America, n.d.; “Oath,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America, n.d.
6          Stroup, “What is the Aerial Nurse Corps of America?” 2; Leora B. Stroup, “A New Service in an Old Cause,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 105 (Sep 1940): 188; Ruth G. Mitchell, “Schedule of Courses and hours for 3 years,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America Bulletin No. 2, n.d.
7          Aerial Nurse Corps, Regulations Manual, 2-4; Stroup, “New Service,” 187–88.
8          “Aerial Nurse Corps of America Regulation Uniform,” n.d.; Lauretta Schimmoler, “Memorandum: Ordering Regulation Uniforms,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America, 28 Jul 1938; “Official Uniform for Aerial Nurse Corps and Aviation Emergency Corps Members,” n.d.
9         “Aerial Nurse Corps,” brochure, n.d., 4.
10       “Aerial Nurse Corps,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 107 (Oct 1941): 281; “Call To Service,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 107 (Oct 1941): 281; “American Nurses – We Are at War!” American Journal of Nursing 42 (Apr 1942): 354; “Urgent Need for Nurses,” American Journal of Nursing 44 (Nov 1944): 1017.
11       “The Meaning of ‘Aerial Nurse Corps,’” Aerial Nurse Corps of America Memorandum, n.d.
12       Stroup, “What is the Aerial Nurse Corps of America?” 2.
13       Stroup, “A New Service,” 184; Stroup, “What is the Aerial Nurse Corps of America?” 3. A new company was also to be formed in Kansas City, but the state was not specified.
14       “Sent to Detroit News Announcing The Annual Dance of the Detroit Group,” 5 Apr 1941.
15       Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to H.A. Coleman, 22 Mar 1945.
16       “Interest in Aviation Increases Aerial Nurse Corps Activities,” Aerial Nurse Corps of America, 15 Sep 1940.
17       Ibid.
18       Aerial Nurse Corps, Regulations Manual, 1.



World War II Army Flight Nurses – 20 Oct 2018

The Aerial Nurse Corps of America
Part 2

By the 1930s, the use of stewardesses on airlines, an idea launched by Boeing Air Transport, had caught on not only with air passengers but also with America’s nurses who applied by the thousands for the chance to take their nursing into the skies.

Pilot Lauretta Shimmoler, however, had a better idea conceived in reaction to two troubling events she had observed. When at the controls of her new plane en route from Akron to Lorain, Ohio in 1930, she had seen the devastation wrought by a tornado that had swept through that area about a year before, its damage yet to be repaired. What if nurses could have been flown to the scene after the storm to render immediate aid to its victims on the ground and to accompany them by air to medical treatment elsewhere, she wondered. Later when Schimmoler noted the inadequate emergency care provided to a fellow pilot following an accident at an air meet, her idea took more definite form. 1

By 1932 Schimmoler, who now was living in Cleveland where she was vice-president of Vi-Airways and in charge of its Women’s Division, had begun preparations for her civilian flight nurse organization. Here she gathered together a group of nurses interested in her idea and formed the Emergency Flight Corps whose initial task was to research and develop the aerial nurse concept further. After moving to Los Angeles in 1933, where she worked in the first of several aviation-related jobs, Schimmoler continued to pursue her plan for aerial nurses. For the National Air Races held in that city in 1936, Schimmoler provided ten registered nurses to staff two field hospitals under the direction of the Chief Medical Officer for that four-day event. The Emergency Flight Corps, renamed the Aerial Nurse Corps of America (ANCOA), was now operational, having aided 220 persons attending the races. 2 By 1940 ANCOA structure, objectives, routines, and course of study were spelled out in the sixty-three page Regulations Manual and other supporting organizational directives.

Lauretta Schimmoler (back row far left) and original ANCOA members,
National Air Races, Los Angeles, 1936 [USAF Photo]

In ANCOA literature the point is made that Schimmoler “was fully cognizant that no provisions were being made to provide nurses with the essential aeronautical education”. 3 Whether Schimmoler knew about an existing aerial organization recently formed in New York City in 1931 – the American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc. – is uncertain. Her research, detailed in statements and speeches, identified aerial nurses in France, Chile, and England, but not in her own country. With its purposes to foster and promote air-mindedness in its registered nurse and licensed physician members, to give courses and lectures in aeronautics and allied subjects to qualify members as attendants to patients in air ambulances, and to institute chapters throughout the country leading to a national aviation nursing service, the American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc.’s goals were similar in many respects to those Schimmoler developed for her own organization of aerial nurses. 4 The Journal of Aviation Medicine, a publication of the Aerospace Medical Association, endorsed the New York organization and welcomed news of its progress within its issues for 1931, 1932, and 1933, including in its pages the organization’s founding, constitution and by-laws, reports of meetings, and course of lectures. Only one lecture pertained to care of patients in flight. Other lectures covered the history of aviation and aviation medicine; physical requirements of pilots; the nervous system; the Schneider Test for circulatory efficiency; eyes and ears; effects of altitude, wind, cold, speed, and carbon monoxide; fatigue; airsickness; military and civilian aviation; types of injuries; duties of nurses as flight surgeon assistants, at airports, and as airline hostesses; operation of airlines, airplanes, and aircrews; flying rules and regulations; and demonstration of flight physicals. 5

In 1932 the American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc., suffered the tragic loss of the “American Nurse” airplane, its pilot and co-pilot, and the organization’s director-general Dr. Leon Pisculli in a research flight from New York to Rome in honor of the American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc. 6 Because Pisculli was its primary organizer and backer, the organization lapsed into inactivity after his death. Although the organization was reactivated the next year by decision of its council, news of the American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc. had faded from the pages of the Journal of Aviation Medicine by 1934, about the time that Schimmoler’s aerial organization was attracting media attention elsewhere. 7

From the time that she launched the ANCOA, Schimmoler worked steadily to have the organization endorsed and recognized as the flight nurse unit of various service organizations, both civilian and, ultimately, military. Believing that actions speak louder than words, ANCOA members offered their services at air meets, air shows, and other aviation activities, gaining some local and national exposure in the press. When the need and opportunity arose, the nurses accompanied patients on flights as well. Media coverage that followed had more impact than advertising in bringing the work of ANCOA to the attention of the public. National ANCOA officers then referred to these activities in their speeches to nursing and aviation organizations.

In the late 1930s the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Aero Squadron recognized ANCOA as a voluntary auxiliary unit for emergency and disaster work. 8 In 1938 the National Aeronautics Association endorsed ANCOA as its official nursing organization, and in April 1940 Gill Robb Wilson, the National Aeronautics Association president, wrote to Mary Beard, Director, American Red Cross (ARC) Nursing Service, asking that society to “take a constructive interest” in ANCOA, a “valued affiliate of the National Aeronautic Association”. 9 One must wonder whether Wilson’s letter was intended to reconcile differences between Schimmoler and Beard, since the interest the ARC had shown in ANCOA up to this point had been anything but constructive. Schimmoler recalled Beard telling her, “You have a wonderful idea, but you are ten years ahead of us. If you were only a nurse we could find a place for you.” 10

ANCOA’s association with Relief Wings, Inc., “A Civilian Program to Use AIRPLANES for Humanitarian Purposes in War or Peacetime Disasters at Home and Abroad”, first mobilized in 1940 and for which Schimmoler served on the Advisory Committee for Technical Aeronautical Problems, also was strained at best. 11 Relief Wings planned to establish and maintain as one of its four voluntary corps “Flight Nurses who will not be emotionally or physically disturbed by first air travel, and who therefore can give maximum efficiency under pressure of disaster or air ambulance conditions”. 12 But in 1941 Ruth Nichols, Executive Director of Relief Wings and a licensed pilot, wrote to Harriet Fleming, a member of the California State Nurses Association, ”Although I have felt that Miss Schimmoler has evolved a fine detailed piece of training program for aerial nurses, we have not found any basis upon which she was willing to co-operate with Relief Wings.” 13

Correspondence of Nichols to Schimmoler indicates that Nichols thought they had an agreement that Schimmoler was not honoring. In short, Nichols would help ANCOA obtain more members if those members would be available for disaster service under Relief Wings, but Schimmoler apparently was not encouraging this collaboration. At stake was each woman’s control over the limited number of nurses available for civilian aerial work during time of war and her claim to the uniqueness of that work. 14 Whether their differences ever were reconciled is not known, but Nichols’s letter to Fleming in 1942 suggests that Relief Wings did not know the present status of ANCOA; Nichols had heard, however, that it “had died a natural death”. 15

ANCOA had not died, but the ultimate association that Schimmoler sought for her organization – to form a unit of the United States military – was beyond her control. ANCOA had as one of its purposes

to provide technically trained and physically qualified personnel to fulfill the requirements of the Medical Department of the U. S. Army and Navy Nurse Corps, under their supervision, in national emergencies, for nursing duty in air transports, at airports and air bases of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps in time of national and civic emergencies. 16

Schimmoler, who founded her flight nurse organization independent of the other service organizations such as the United States Army and the ARC, nevertheless intended that ANCOA would become the air unit of the ARC, which in turn provided nurses for the military. Undaunted in the face of the skepticism she encountered when promoting her new organization to nursing officials, Schimmoler relentlessly pursued her goals. The formative years of flight nursing prior to the development of the program in the United States Army Air Forces were marked by the rivalry of these two organizations – ANCOA and ARC – that were in contention to provide the nurses for a flight nurse program in the United States military. This rivalry highlights an issue that has plagued nursing from its beginning: that nurses should control their own profession.

To be continued


1          Aerial Nurse Corps of America, Regulations Manual (Los Angeles, Burbank, CA: Schimmoler, 1940), n.p.; Leora B. Stroup, “A New Service in an Old Cause,” Trained Nurse and Hospital Review 105 (Sep 1940): 186.
2          Aerial Nurse Corps, Regulations Manual, n.p.; Douglas J. Bintliff, “Aerial Nurse Corps,” Air Trails, Nov 1940, 54; Emerson, “Most Recent Emergency Unit,” 10; Stroup, “New Service,” 186–87.
3          “The Aerial Nurse Corps of America” brochure, n.d.
4          “The American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc.,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 2 (1931): 262–63.
5          Ibid.; “The Nurse in Aviation,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 3 (1932): 5; “The Nurse in Aviation,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 3 (1932): 116–18.
6          “The American Nurses Aviation Service Inc.,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 3(3) (Sep 1932): 176.
7          “American Nurses Aviation Service, Inc.,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 4 (Mar 1933): 19.
8          Emerson, “Most Recent Emergency Unit,” 10; Leora B. Stroup, “What is the Aerial Nurse Corps of America?” n.d., 2; James Farrer, “Flying Nurses Do Without Glamor,” [Dayton] Sunday Mirror, 20 Apr 1941; “Nurses Mobilize for Duties in New Home Defense Service,” Los Angeles Times, 23 Mar 1941.
9         Gill Robb Wilson, letter to Mary Beard, 16 Apr 1940.
10       Lauretta M. Schimmoler, letter to H.A. Coleman, 22 Mar 1945; Lauretta M. Schimmoler, “The Story of How It All Began: “And They Said It Wouldn’t Be Done,” unpublished manuscript, n.d., 7.
11       “Relief Wings,” brochure, n.d.
12       “Relief Wings, Inc.,” Journal of Aviation Medicine 12 (Sep 1941): 260.
13       Ruth Nichols, letter to Harriet Fleming, 16 Feb 1942.
14       Ruth Nichols, letter to Lauretta Schimmoler, 5 Dec 1941.
15       Nichols, letter to Fleming, 16 Feb 1942.
16       Aerial Nurse Corps, Regulations Manual, 1.