There is a scripture in the Bible -- Proverbs 22:6, “Raise up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not stray from it.” Anna Mae Hays was the first woman to be promoted to Brigadier General in the US Army. She was also the first nurse to do so. There are striking similarities between the way she was raised and what became of her in later life.
The Salvation Army had its beginnings in London as the East London Christian Mission, founded in 1865 by a Methodist minister and his wife. In 1878, it was re-organized along military lines and re-named the Salvation Army. “Soup, soap, and salvation” were the first three priorities in helping anyone. Another priority set it apart from most Judeo-Christian denominations of its time (and even of today): Women have the same right to preach as men. Women are ordained as ministers on an even keel with men. Ordained ministers – called Officers in the Salvation Army – are moved every two to five years to change ministries.
Anna Mae McCabe was born to Salvation Army Officers on Feb. 16, 1920 in Buffalo, NY. With the emphasis on ‘soup, soap, salvation’, it is not surprising that she went into nursing. She graduated from Allentown Hospital School of Nursing (Allentown, PA) in 1941 and received a commission in the Army Nurse Corps in 1942. She traveled extensively in service, first to Ledo, Assam, India from 42-44. After WWII, she was head nurse at Tilton General Hospital at Ft. Dix, NJ, then obstetrics supervisor at Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, PA and on to being head nurse of the outpatient clinic at Ft. Myer, Virginia. In 1950, McCabe traveled with the 4th Field Hospital to Inchon, Korea on the heels of McArthur’s invasion there. Seven months later, she transferred to Tokyo Army Hospital in Japan in the comptroller’s office as management nurse. After a year in Tokyo, McCabe went to the US Army Hospital in Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania as the pediatric supervisor. She earned her Nursing Service Administration as a student at MFSS in Fort Sam Houston, Texas and then spent three years at Walter Reed General Hospital. She was the private duty nurse for President Dwight D. Eisenhower for thirty days when he was being treated there for ileitis (Crohn’s Disease) in 1956.
Music plays a vital part in the Salvation Army’s ministry. During her combat tours, Anna Mae McCabe would often play a field pump organ for chapel services and weddings.
1956 also brought a huge change to Miss McCabe’s life, but like her tours of duty, it was brief. She was married, but widowed in 1962. During her marriage, Anna Mae Hays was the head nurse of the Nuclear Medicine and Radioisotope Clinic at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (1958) and received her BS at the Teachers College of Columbia University, NY. From 1960-63, she was Chief Nurse at the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Pusan, returned to Walter Reed Hospital, and then to the Office of Surgeon General as Colonel Harper’s Special Assistant. From 1963 to 66, Hays served as the Assistant Chief of the Army Nurse Corps and then as its thirteenth Chief from Sept. 1, 1967 through August 31, 1971. During this time, she also earned her MS at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC (1968).
On June 11, 1970 (after being appointed by President Nixon on May 15, 1970) Anna Mae V. McCabe Hays was promoted to Brigadier General by Secretary of the Army Stanley C. Resor and General William C. Westmoreland. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director of the Women’s Army Corp was also promoted to Brigadier General at the same ceremony.
During her military service, Hays was bestowed the Distinguished Service Medal (on her retirement August 31, 1971), the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster, and the Army Commendation Medal. After retiring, Hays continued to travel, spending her time between Arlington, Virginia and Marbella, Spain. On June 1, 1995, Hays spoke at the groundbreaking ceremonies for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at the Arlington Cemetery’s Main Gate.
So, here is a woman, raised by Salvation Army standards, who took those standards, beliefs, and talents, and became the first female and the first nurse to attain the rank of Brigadier General in the US Army. The men, women, children, and even president who came under her care, and the nation for whom she served, are grateful to her and to the way she was raised.