On Jan. 7, the United States lost Brigadier General Anna Mae McCabe Hays, who died at the age of 97.
It took a while for women gain ground in the military. Hays didn’t let double standards or biases against her gender limit her during her military career. As a result of her fortitude and determination, she is now best-known for becoming the first female to be promoted to a General Officer rank in the United States armed forces.
Hays was born on Feb. 16, 1920, in Buffalo, NY. She had a love for music and would have applied to Julliard, but her parents could not afford the tuition.
Hays also had an affinity for nursing; as a young child, she would practice tying bandages on wooden chairs and when she grew up, she decided to attend Allentown Hospital School of Nursing. After graduation in 1941, she lent her talents to the American Red Cross, but she soon learned that she could aid her country in a higher capacity.
After the attack against Pearl Harbor, Hays drove to Philadelphia where she signed up for the Army Nursing Corps. Her first assignment was a military base hospital in Assam, India, where she treated construction workers and Army engineers who had the task of building a road to China.
Amputations were a common occurrence and Hays witnessed — and assisted in — many of them. Impressively, at the end of WWII, Hays decided to stay in the Army. She went on to deploy to South Korea and set up the first hospital in the city of Ichon.
Hays also helped lobby change for women by suggesting that married officers who became pregnant should not be automatically discharged. She also helped change the discriminatory age limitations that restricted women from joining the Army Nurse Corps Reserve.
If that wasn’t enough, Hays also established the Army Institute of Nursing, which is now Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at Andrews AFB, Maryland. Her promotion to Brigadier General on June 11, 1970 was the first time a woman had worn stars on her shoulders. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s wife, Mamie, was present at her ceremony and presented her with the very stars her husband received when he was promoted to the same rank in 1941.
After three decades of military service, Hays stated, “If I had it to do over again, I would do it longer.” A woman of steadfast fortitude and astonishing work ethic, Hays paved the way for future leaders of our armed services — men and women alike — and she will never be forgotten.