Biographies of the Superintendents
Miss Jane A. Delano
2d Superintendent, Army Nurse Corps
© Mary T. Sarnecky
Jane Arminda Delano was born in 1862 in Montour Falls, New York to George and Mary Ann Wright Delano. Delano had no recollection of her father, who apparently died of yellow fever in Louisiana while serving as a Union soldier in the Civil War. Expediency, the story went, forced his compatriots to bury the elder Delano in an unmarked grave.1 As a young woman, Delano taught school for a time but later decided to become a trained nurse. She realized this ambition, graduating from Bellevue Training School in New York City in 1886. Following graduation, Delano became superintendent of nurses at Sandhills Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida, during a raging yellow fever epidemic. While there she placed window screens and used mosquito netting in the patient care area and in the nurses' lodgings, an innovation in an era when scientists only suspected that mosquitoes might carry the disease.2 When the epidemic subsided, she left Florida traveling west and subsequently nursed at a copper mining camp hospital on the Mexican border in Bisbee, Arizona during a typhoid epidemic.3 Life in the wild west proved exciting. She later reminisced, ". . . in those days, the Apache Indians were usually on the war-path and we never dared stir out without a revolver. 4 Delano faced other terrors on the rough and ready frontier. She told of how:
In 1891, Delano returned east to serve as superintendent of nurses at University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After a five year tenure there, she attended medical school in Buffalo, New York, but decided to abandon plans to become a physician, matriculated at the New York School of Civics and Philanthropy, and subsequently continued nursing.6 She then assumed the challenging responsibilities of superintendent at the House of Refuge, a shelter for wayward girls, on Randall's Island in the East River of New York City. From 1902 until 1906, she was the superintendent of the prestigious Training School at Bellevue Hospital, finally leaving there to care for her dying mother in Charlottesville, Virginia.7
Following a brief respite, Delano almost simultaneously assumed four demanding roles. In 1908, she became the president of the Associated Alumnae and president of the Board of Directors of the American Journal of Nursing. In 1909, she accepted both the chairmanship of the American Red Cross Nursing Service and the superintendency of the Army Nurse Corps.8
Four years earlier when so few nurses answered the call to the reserves, Delano and her peers, Anna Maxwell and Mary Gladwin, had signed up for the Nurse Corps (female) reserve. All three were beyond the maximum 45 year age limit, but they did not list their ages on the application forms. The Army accepted the distinguished trio without question.9 From then on, Delano completely dedicated herself to the idea of a nursing reserve. Her efforts probably saved the short-lived Army Nurse Corps from extinction.
Jane Delano assumed her duties in the surgeon general's office on 12 August 1909. She served there until 31 March 1912, resigning to devote all of her energies to the American Red Cross. Much of the credit for recruiting the majority of the 21, 480 Army nurses who served during World War I can be ascribed to Delano.
After the war, Delano traveled to Europe to visit with the nurses she enrolled. While there she fell ill with mastoititis. She died on 15 April 1919 and was buried in Savenay, France.10 In 1920, the Army Quartermaster Corps exhumed Delano's body, returned it to the United States, and reinterred it in the nurses' plot at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.11