Who was Anna Mae Hays?


Brigadier General Anna Mae Violet Hays (née McCabe; 16 February 1920 to 07 January 2018) was an American military officer who served as the 13th chief of the United States Army Nurse Corps.

She was the first woman in the United States Armed Forces to be promoted to a General Officer rank; in 1970, she was promoted to brigadier general. Hays paved the way for equal treatment of women, countered occupational sexism, and made a number of recommendations which were accepted into military policy.

The first two military women to achieve General Officer rank, Brigadier General Anna Mae Hays, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps (left), and Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director, WAC (right), with Mamie Eisenhower on their promotion day, 11 June 1970.

Early Life

Anna Mae Violet McCabe was born on February 16, 1920, in Buffalo, New York, as the middle of three children in the family. Her father was Daniel Joseph McCabe (1881-1939), while her mother was the former Matie Florence Humphrey (1885-1961), who was of Welsh descent; both her parents were officers of The Salvation Army.

During her childhood, the McCabe family moved several times in the western New York and eastern Pennsylvania areas, but settled in Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1932. She had an elder brother, Daniel Joseph II and a younger sister, Catherine Evangeline Hays attended Allentown High School, now William Allen High School, graduating with honours in 1938. Hays had a love of music – playing the piano, the organ, and the French horn – and wanted to go to Juilliard School to study music, but due to a lack of funds for tuition she decided to pursue nursing instead.

Military Career

Following her high school studies, Hays enrolled at the Allentown General Hospital School of Nursing in 1939, from which she graduated in 1941, having obtained a diploma in nursing. In May 1942, she joined the Army Nurse Corps, and was sent to India in January 1943, serving with the 20th Field Hospital, to the town of Ledo in Assam.

The hospital was stationed at the entrance to Ledo Road, which cut through the jungles into Burma. The living and working conditions were somewhat primitive; the buildings were made of bamboo, and dysentery, leeches and snakes were common, particularly during monsoon seasons. Just over two years later, in April 1945, she was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.

After serving two and a half years in India, Hays was on leave in the United States when the war ended. Remaining with the Corps, she served as an operating room nurse and later as a head nurse at Tilton General Hospital at Fort Dix, New Jersey; as obstetrics supervisor at Valley Forge General Hospital in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; and as a head nurse at Fort Myer, Virginia.

In August 1950, she was deployed to Inchon to serve in the Korean War. She was posted to the 4th Field Hospital for seven months, and later described the conditions in the hospital there as worse than those in India in World War II, due to the cold temperatures in the operating room and a lack of supplies.

During the next fourteen months, she and 31 other nurses treated more than 25,000 patients. As she had done in India, Hays spent some of her off-duty time in Korea assisting chaplains by playing a field pump organ for church services, some of which were held on the front lines. Following her tour in Korea, Hays was transferred to Tokyo Army Hospital in April 1951 and served a year there. A year later, she was transferred to Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, as an obstetric and paediatric director.

After graduating from the Nursing Service Administration Course at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, she was appointed head nurse at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington D.C. emergency room, where she served as the head nurse of the Radioisotope Clinic. During this time she was selected as one of three private nurses for President Dwight D. Eisenhower after he became ill with ileitis; on her retirement she said that this experience was one of the most memorable of her nursing career.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing education in 1958 from Columbia University, and a Master of Science in Nursing degree in 1968 from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In October 1960, she became the chief nurse of the 11th Evacuation Hospital in Pusan. From 1963 to 1966, she was assistant chief of the Army Nurse Corps. In July 1967, she was promoted to the rank of Colonel, and on 01 September of the same year she was appointed chief of the Corps, a position she held until her retirement on 31 August 1971.

During the Vietnam War Hays travelled to Vietnam three times to monitor American nurses stationed there. She also managed the development of new training programmes and an increase in the number of nurses serving overseas.

On 15 May 1970, President Richard Nixon appointed Hays to the rank of brigadier general and on 11 June 1970, she was promoted at a ceremony, officiated by the Army Chief of Staff, General William C. Westmoreland, and the Secretary of the Army, Stanley R. Resor. Following Hays’ promotion, Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director of the Women’s Army Corps, was also promoted to the rank of brigadier general. Hays said in her address to the gathering, that the general stars “reflect[ed] the dedicated, selfless, and often heroic efforts of Army nurses throughout the world since 1901 in time of peace and war.”

After her appointment she asked to be dropped off at the army officers’ club front entrance, countering the prevailing occupational sexism. Although entitled to enter and use the club before, female officers were expected to come through the side entrance.

Hays made a number of recommendations regarding the treatment of women, which were accepted into military policy, including not to automatically discharge officers for becoming pregnant and not to determine appointments to the Army Nurse Corps Reserve based on the age of the nurse’s dependents. In addition, regulations were changed to allow spouses of female service members to claim similar privileges to spouses of male service members.


In addition to the military honours Hays received, her service was also recognised in the community; in 2015, Lehigh and Northampton counties named the Coplay-Northampton Bridge after her.

In 2012, she was named to Lehigh County’s Hall of Fame. In November 2017, she was presented with a Flag of Valour quilt during a Veterans Day ceremony at Knollwood. In June 2020, The Allentown School District in Allentown, Lehigh County, Pennsylvania named an elementary school after her. The elementary school, which was still under construction at the time of the naming, was completed in August 2020.

Personal and Later Life

In July 1956 she married William A. Hays, who directed the Sheltered Workshops that provided jobs for disabled people in Washington D.C. William Hays died in 1962 or 1963.

Anna Mae Hays died at Knollwood Retirement Facility, in Washington, D.C., on 07 January 2018, of complications from a heart attack, at the age of 97. She could have been buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but she had chosen instead to be buried with her parents in Grandview Cemetery in South Whitehall Township. Three days later, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf ordered the state flag at the Capitol Complex and at all state facilities in Allentown to fly at half staff in honour to her death.


  • Army Distinguished Service Medal.
  • Legion of Merit with Oak Leaf Cluster.
  • Army Commendation Medal.
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation with Oak Leaf Cluster.
  • American Campaign Medal.
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with One Bronze Service Star.
  • World War II Victory Medal.
  • Army of Occupation Medal.
  • National Defence Service Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster.
  • Korean Service Medal with Three Service Stars.
  • United Nations Korea Medal.

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