© Mary T. Sarnecky
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,
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
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,
Photo of Colonel Phillips
- "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.
- Ruth Anne Vihinen, untitled,
unpublished manuscript, April 1986, ANC Archives,
U.S. Army Center of Military History, Washington,
- 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.
- "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.
- Florence Oblensky, "Eleven
Women--And the Army Nurse," The Retired
Officer 19 (January-February 1963): 32-33.
- "Gen" to Florence A.
Blanchfield, 9 September 1959, handwritten
letter, Florence A. Blanchfield Collection,
Nursing Archives, Mugar Memorial Library, Boston
University, Boston, Massachusetts.
- 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.