Preserving Our Past, Capitalizing on the Present, Embracing the Future

Captain Dora E. Thompson
4th Superintendent, Army Nurse Corps

© Mary T. Sarnecky

Click for larger image

Dora E. Thompson was born at Cold Springs, New York in 1876. Her father, Arthur, was a Canadian-born carpenter. Thompson's mother, also named Dora, died when she was five years old. The young Thompson then was raised by her aunt, Alma Armstrong. Thompson graduated from nurses' training at City Hospital, Blackwell's Island, New York City, in 1897 and continued studying there with a postgraduate course in operating room methods. During the next few years, Thompson devoted her time to operating room and private duty nursing. She joined the Army Nurse Corps in 1902 and her first assignment was to the Army General Hospital at the Presidio of San Francisco. In August 1905, she became chief nurse there and successfully guided the nurses and the hospital through the disaster of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In 1911, Thompson transferred to the division hospital at Manila where she also served as chief nurse. On 22 September 1914, the surgeon general named her superintendent of the Nurse Corps (female).

Thompson guided the Army Nurse Corps through the tumultous times of World War I. But the herculean effort exacted a physical and emotional toll on this meticulous leader. After the war, Thompson spent a month of sick leave at Greystone, a nurses' rest home in Riverdale on Hudson, New York. She continued her recuperation elsewhere until the last days of 1919, using a large amount of accrued leave to convalesce.1 In November, 1919, Newton D. Baker, the Secretary of War, awarded Thompson the Distinguished Service Medal for "her accuracy, good judgment, . . . untiring devotion to duty" and her "splendid management of the Army Nurse Corps during the emergency."2 Thompson resigned as superintendent effective 29 December 1919 and applied to return one day later as a chief nurse at the Department Hospital in Manila in the Philippine Islands.3 Her successor, Julia Stimson, asked Thompson to accept an appointment at the elevated grade of assistant superintendent and to shoulder the additional responsibility for all Army nurses serving in the Philippines, Siberia, and Tientsin, China.4 Thompson accepted.

After three years in the Philippine Department, Thompson returned to the United States and became principal chief nurse at Letterman General Hospital in 1922.5

Thompson retired from the Army Nurse Corps on 31 August 1932. She continued to reside in San Francisco, with the assistance of her Filipino houseman Mariano, in a picturesque home overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. She was able to purchase her house with proceeds from an investment made many years earlier in a Philippine gold mine. Thompson remained in San Francisco until her death on 23 June 1954. The women officers' quarters at Letterman General Hospital was named Thompson Hall in her honor.6

  1. Julia C. Stimson to Nena Shelton, 22 July 1919, Record Group 112, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Pauline Maxwell, "History of the Army Nurse Corps, 1775-1948," unpublished manuscript, ANC Archives, United States Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C., Chapter 6, pp. 634-636.
  2. "War Department, General Orders No. 108," 11 September 1919, Section VII, 7; Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Army to the Secretary of War 1920 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1920): 296.
  3. Dora E. Thompson to The Adjutant General, 12 November 1919; and Dora E. Thompson to The Surgeon General, 12 November 1919; both in Record Group 112, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  4. Julia C. Stimson to Dora E. Thompson, 17 November 1919, Record Group 112, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.
  5. Julia C. Stimson and Associates, "History and Manual of the Army Nurse Corps," Army Medical Bulletin No. 41 (1 October 1937): 90; Mary M. Roberts, The Army Nurse Corps Yesterday and Today (Washington: privately printed, 1957), 16.
  6. "Letterman's Own," The Foghorn 35 (22 January 1976): 7; "Trial by Fire in 1906 Prepared Nurse to Handle First Global War," The Fort Point Salvo 2 (April 1975): 2.