Biographies of the Superintendents
Colonel Florence A. Blanchfield
7th Chief, Army Nurse Corps
© Mary T. Sarnecky
Florence Aby Blanchfield was one of eight children born in Shepardstown, West Virginia to stonemason Joseph Plunkett Blanchfield and Mary Louvenia Anderson Blanchfield, a nurse, in 1882. She graduated from Southside Hospital Training School for nurses in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1906. Following graduation, Blanchfield migrated to Baltimore where she worked as a private duty nurse and pursued further education in operating room supervision and technique at Dr. Howard Kelly's Sanitarium and Johns Hopkins University. Blanchfield subsequently returned to Pittsburgh as operating room supervisor at Southside Hospital and Montifiore Hospital. In 1909, she became superintendent and director of a training school at Suburban General Hospital in Bellevue, Pennsylvania. Blanchfield got her first taste of foreign duty in 1913 when she worked for six months as an operating room nurse and a anesthetist at the Ancon Hospital in the Panama Canal Zone. Upon her return to the states, she worked at the United States Steel Corporation in Bessemer, Pennsylvania and attended the Martin Business college. In 1916, Blanchfield again changed positions and again became superintendent of nurses at Suburban Hospital in Bellevue.
With the outbreak of war in 1917, Blanchfield joined the University of Pittsburgh Medical School unit, Base Hospital #27, and served as acting chief nurse from August 1917 to January 1919 in Angers and in Camp Coetquidan, France. Following the war Blanchfield left the Army Nurse Corps and settled briefly back at Suburban General Hospital. Undoubtedly, she enjoyed her military experience as she returned to the Army Nurse Corps eight months later in 1920. Thereafter followed a number of brief assignments at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, California; Camp Custer, Michigan; Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana; Sternberg General Hospital and Camp John Hay in the Philippine Department; Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington D.C.; Fort McPherson, Georgia; Jefferson Barracks, Missouri; Fort William McKinley in the Philippines; and Tientsin, China.
In 1935, Blanchfield returned to Washington D.C. to the office of the superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps where she would remain for the balance of her career. When initially in the superintendent's office, she assumed responsibilities for personnel matters in the corps. Subsequently she became assistant superintendent in 1939 and acting superintendent in 1942 when Flikke was absent from duty due to ill health. On 1 June 1943, Blanchfield took the oath of office as superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps. She served in this capacity until her retirement in September 1947.1
Florence Blanchfield was an excellent choice to be the seventh superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps. The "Little Colonel," so called because she was only 5' 1" tall, was thoroughly conversant with the workings of the superintendent's office and familiar with all the key people in the Surgeon General's Office. Her assistants confided that Blanchfield could "keep her mind on eight things at once,. . . she has the memory of a super Quiz Kid for facts and figures."2 Another account credited Blanchfield with being a "good scrapper." It related that Blanchfield "can fight with bulldog tenacity to obtain or revise regulations that will benefit her Corps."3 Her extensive and varied military background contributed to her very successful leadership as well. Also referred to as the "soldiers' nurse" because of her passion for the welfare of the ordinary soldier, Blanchfield was one of the finest leaders the Army Nurse Corps has known.
She died on 12 May 1971 and was interred in the nurses' section of Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Among a myriad of other honors, Blanchfield received the prestigious Florence Nightingale Medal of the International Red Cross in 1951. In 1982, the hospital at Fort Campbell, Kentucky was given the name of the Colonel Florence A. Blanchfield Army Community Hospital. This has been the only instance where a Medical Department Activity (MEDDAC) has been named after an Army nurse.4