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

Miss Jane A. Delano
2d Superintendent, Army Nurse Corps

© Mary T. Sarnecky

Click for larger image

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:

All one long dark night she lay awake, listening to a mystifying, terrifying sound just outside her hut. It seemed to come, inch by inch, nearer to her window. She watched the intense blackness lighten with the dawn, expecting to see the evil face of the marauder. When daybreak came, after an infinity of waiting for the realization of her terrors, she discovered that it was only her burro rubbing his sides against the corrugated tin walls of her shack.5

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

  1. Some discrepancies in Delano's birth year exist. Linda Sabin, "Jane Arminda Delano, 1858 (1862?)-1919," in Vern L. Bullough, Olga Maranjian Church, & Alice P. Stein, American Nursing, A Biographical Dictionary (New York: Garland Publishing Company, 1988): 78-80; Mary A. Clarke, R.N. Memories of Jane A. Delano (New York: Lakeside Publishing Company, 1934); Mary E. Gladwin, The Red Cross and Jane Arminda Delano (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1931), 28.
  2. "Jane A. Delano the Great War Nurse, Her Imperishable Contributions to the Profession She Adorned," American Red Cross Records, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.; Mary E. Gladwin, The Red Cross and Jane Arminda Delano (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1931), 32.
  3. The primitive town had only one bath tub. The tub's hospitable owners allowed Delano to visit on Saturday nights and have a weekly bath. However she had to furnish her own "towels, soaps and scrub brushes." Mary A. Clarke, R.N. Memories of Jane A. Delano (New York: Lakeside Publishing Company, 1934), 4.
  4. Lavinia L. Dock, Sarah E. Pickett, Clara D. Noyes, Fannie F. Clement, Elizabeth G. Fox, & Anna R. VanMeter, History of American Red Cross Nursing (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1922), 355.
  5. Mary E. Gladwin, The Red Cross and Jane Arminda Delano (Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1931), 35.
  6. Annie W. Goodrich, "Jane Delano," 12 March 1931, typewritten manuscript, Annie W. Goodrich Papers, Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, New Haven, Connecticut.
  7. Clara D. Noyes, "A Great Nurse," The Red Cross Bulletin 3 (May 12, 1919), 10; "Jane A. Delano, the Great War Nurse," reprint from Red Cross Courier of March 16, 1931, American Red Cross Records, The National Archives, Washington D.C.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Eleanor Lee, History of the School of Nursing of the Presbyterian Hospital, New York, 1892-1942 (New York: G.P. Putmam's Sons, 1942): 40.
  10. Dock et al., History of American Red Cross Nursing, 1000-1003.
  11. Julia C. Stimson to Clara Noyes, 27 August 1920; and H.F. Rethers to J.L. Rogers, 31 July 1920; both in Record Group 112, The National Archives, Washington, D.C.