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

Colonel Mary G. Phillips
8th Chief, Army Nurse Corps

© Mary T. Sarnecky

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Mary Genevieve Phillips had the distinction of being the first Army nurse to serve the statutory four-year term as chief of the Army Nurse Corps. One of nine children, Phillips was born on 2 December 1903 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin to Mr. and Mrs. James E. Phillips, both schoolteachers. She graduated from Medford High School in 1921 and attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Sauk County Rural Normal School to prepare for a teaching career. From 1922 until 1926, she worked as a clerk in the superintendent of school's office and as a rural elementary school teacher in Prairie du Sac, Lime Ridge, and Medford, Wisconsin.

Phillips changed her career goals from education to nursing sometime in the mid-1920s because she "wanted to be with people and take care of them."1 In 1926, she entered the Army School of Nursing. Major Julia C. Stimson, the dean of the school, wrote that Phillips was "intelligent, cooperative, dependable and deeply interested in nursing."2 She graduated in 1929 and was one of the select few among the school's alumnae to join the Army Nurse Corps.3 In her first assignment, Phillips remained at the Army School of Nursing as an instructing supervisor. Later in 1931, she matriculated at Teachers' College, Columbia University, and studied for a year there. Several years later in 1935, she completed the requirements for a bachelor of science degree in Nursing Education from the university. From 1932 to 1934, Phillips worked in the operating room at Walter Reed General Hospital and subsequently served as a general duty nurse at the station hospitals at Fort Slocum and Fort Jay, New York. In 1937, she transferred to the Philippine Department for a two year assignment and returned afterwards to Walter Reed General Hospital to work in the Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic. In 1941, Phillips was promoted to the rank of captain and became the Principal Chief Nurse at Fort Devens, Massachusetts and then at Camp Shanks, New York.

In May 1943, Phillips received a promotion to Major and just seven months later was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Her assignment then was as first assistant to the chief of the corps. Much of Phillips' energy during the war was devoted to resolving the staggering uniform problems confronting the World War II Army Nurse Corps. For her contributions in this frustrating task, Phillips was awarded the prestigious Legion of Merit. After VE day, she transferred to the Pacific where she became director of nurses for the Armed Forces of the Western Pacific. Early in 1947, Phillips returned to Blanchfield's office in Washington, D.C. She became the eighth chief of the Army Nurse Corps on 1 October 1947 and the first chief to be a graduate of the Army School of Nursing.4

On 30 September 1951 at age 47, Phillips retired from the Army with 22 years of service.5 In her early retirement years, she cared for her mother until the latter's death in 1959 in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. Phillips then entered a convent.6 She became Sister Mary Genevieve, a nun of the Visitation of Saint Paul order in St. Paul, Minnesota. However, her years in the religious community were plagued by ill health. Phillips survived a myocardial infarction in 1960. But a few years later she experienced a cerebrovascular accident which rendered her virtually immobile. On 30 January 1980 she suffered another stroke and died. She was buried in Resurrection Cemetery in St. Paul, Minnesota.7

Photo of Colonel Phillips

  1. "Colonel Mary G. Phillips, She. . . Is Always Willing to Do More Than Is Required of Her", unidentified clipping in ANC Archives, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.
  2. Ruth Anne Vihinen, untitled, unpublished manuscript, April 1986, ANC Archives, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.
  3. Army School of Nursing, Class of 1929, Walter Reed General Hospital, Washington, D.C., annual yearbook (Baltimore: The Reed-Taylor Company, 1929), 40. During the 1920s and 1930s few Army nurses left the Corps. Thus few vacancies were available and only a few Army School of Nursing graduates and other young nurses were able to join.
  4. "Officer Career Summary, DA Form 300, Phillips, Mary G.,"; John E. Dahlquist to Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, 1 October 1947," both in ANC Archives, U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington, D.C.
  5. Florence Oblensky, "Eleven Women--And the Army Nurse," The Retired Officer 19 (January-February 1963): 32-33.
  6. "Gen" to Florence A. Blanchfield, 9 September 1959, handwritten letter, Florence A. Blanchfield Collection, Nursing Archives, Mugar Memorial Library, Boston University, Boston, Massachusetts.
  7. Sister Mary G. Phillips, (Gen) to Katrine Stone, 2 January 1973, handwritten letter, Stone Collection, AMEDD Museum, Fort Sam Houston, Texas; Ruth Anne Vihinen & Rosemary T. McCarthy, "Mary Genevieve Phillips," in American Nursing, A Biographical Dictionary eds. Vern L. Bullough, Olga Maranjian Church & Alice P. Stein (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc), 260-261.