Biographies of the Superintendents
Colonel Julia O. Flikke
6th Superintendent, Army Nurse Corps
© Mary T. Sarnecky
Julia Otteson Flikke was born in Viroqua, Wisconsin, on 16 March 1878 to Solfest Otteson and Kristi Severson Otteson. She attended grammar school in her home town and later graduated from Viroqua High School. She taught school for two years until her marriage to Arne T. Flikke in 1901. Flikke had one child who died at birth as a result of a breech presentation.1 Flikke's husband suffered from tuberculosis and passed away in 1911.2 Her husband's death and that of a son "convinced her that proper medical care was a desperate national need."3 She entered Augustana Hospital's School of Nursing in Chicago, Illinois, in 1912 and graduated in 1915. She subsequently attended Teachers' College at Columbia University, studying nursing education and administration. Upon completion of her studies in 1916, she became assistant superintendent of nurses at Augustana Hospital.
Flikke entered the Army Nurse Corps during World War I in March 1918 and first served at the U.S. Army General Hospital in Lakewood, New Jersey. While there, she took the chief nurse examination and upon passing was named chief nurse of the Augustana unit, Base Hospital #11. The unit sailed for France in August 1918 and served for the duration of the war in Nantes, caring for the wounded from the Argonne.4 Following the Armistice, Flikke served for a period on Hospital Train #55 which was based in Savenay. Returning to the states, she had two brief assignments in Camp Upton, New York and Army and Navy General Hospital in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Flikke then became a first lieutenant and accepted a transfer to the Philippine Department in 1920. While there, she first worked at the Fort William McKinley Station Hospital and later accepted a change of venue, traveling to Tientsin, China. She subsequently returned again to the United States. After a five month sojourn at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco, California in 1922, Flikke became chief nurse of Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C. Her lengthy stay of 12 years in that position provided a silent testimony to her able stewardship. One account verified that she contributed to "the excellence of the professional service" and "the general satisfactory administration of the plant as a whole." Mention was made of her "gracious manner" while serving as a hostess for "the many foreign dignitaries who came to the hospital to observe American Army medicine."5 During this period of her life in 1927, Flikke became a captain. From 1934 to 1936, she was chief nurse at the Station Hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. With the dawning of the new year in 1937, Flikke transferred back to the Surgeon General's Office in Washington, D.C. and presumably served as Major Julia Stimson's understudy for the six months prior to the latter's retirement.
As the nation galvanized to meet the coming demands of World War II, Flikke spearheaded the Army Nurse Corps' increasingly difficult efforts to recruit, outfit, and assign the greatest number of nurses ever mobilized. One of the more visible and enduring signs of her efforts to attract nurses to military service during the war was the publication of her volume entitled Nurses in Action, The Story of the Army Nurse Corps.6
In December 1942, Public Law 828 authorized AUS (Army of the United States) commissions in grades from second lieutenant to colonel for Army nurses. Flikke then became the first female colonel in the AUS. At that time, the title of her position changed from superintendent to chief of the Army Nurse Corps. Simultaneously, Army nurses were given pay equal to officers of comparable grade without dependents.7
Flikke retired from the Army with a physical disability in June 1943 at age 65. Her contributions may seem minor when viewed against the backdrop of her predecessor, Stimson, and her successor, Blanchfield. Her time as superintendent and chief was of relatively short duration. But her six-year tenure was marked by dramatic extremes from peace to total war. The process of adapting from a peacetime to a wartime Army was a formidable challenge, particularly for a sextuagenarian. When evaluating Flikke's achievements, one must consider her entire lengthy career, the majority of which was served out in the field performing a yeoman's service. From that standpoint, Flikke's endowment was substantial. In recognition of her national service, Wittenberg College in Springfield Ohio awarded Flikke an honorary doctor of science degree in 1944. She retired to her home in Takoma Park, Maryland and subsequently lived her last years in the National Lutheran Home for the Aged in Washington, D.C. She died on 23 February 1965 at the age of 86 years and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.8