First Woman General Officer in U.S. Armed Forces

Anna Mae McCabe Hays was the first woman general officer of the U.S. Armed Forces and the 13th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Her contributions to the Army improved care for patients and opportunities for women.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., on Feb. 16, 1920 to Salvation Army officer parents, Hays long wanted to become a nurse. The family moved to Allentown, Pa., in 1932.  After high school, Hays attended Allentown General Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1941. She later earned a BS in Nursing from Columbia University and MS in Nursing from Catholic University of Washington, DC. 

Hays entered the Army in 1942 and rose to lead the Army Nurse Corps and achieve the highest rank possible for women of her time. She retired in 1971, as the 13th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps at the rank of brigadier general.

During her 30-year Army career, Hays cared for the ill and injured of every rank, from the most junior soldiers to the commander in chief.  She tended to patients in primitive conditions in India during World War II with the 20th General Hospital; in frigid Korea with the 4th Field Hospital; and at stateside hospitals, including Walter Reed, where Hays was head nurse of the Emergency Room. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower was hospitalized at Walter Reed, Hays was one of three private nurses assigned to his care. She developed a friendship with the Eisenhower family that lasted decades.

Hays had provided front line care in two wars when she was sworn in on Sept. 1, 1967 as the 13th Chief of the Army Nurse Corps. In that role, Hays worked to increase the number of nurses in the Army, their educational opportunities and nursing standards, and recommended changes that allowed women to remain in the Army during and after pregnancy.

On June 11, 1970, Hays and Elizabeth Hoisington, Director of the Women’s Army Corps, were promoted to brigadier general, the first women to wear stars. Hays’ star was pinned on first in the ceremony, making her the first female general officer.  Brig. Gen. Hays retired from the Army on Aug. 31, 1971. Her awards include the Distinguished Service Medal and the Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster.

Brig. Gen. Hays died on Jan. 7, 2018 at Knollwood Retirement Facility in Washington, D.C. at the age of 97. She was buried with full military honors in Grandview Cemetery, Allentown, Pa. Her husband, William A. Hays, died in 1962.

A scholarship in her name was established at Northampton Community College Foundation, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem, PA 18020.

In March 2018, Brig. Gen. Hayes was inducted into the U.S. Army Women’s Foundation Hall of Fame.

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