Lenah Higbee

A hero of World War I, Lenah Higbee is recognized as the first female recipient of the Navy Cross.

Born in Chatham, New Brunswick Canada on May 18, 1874, Higbee completed nurses' training at the New York Post-Graduate Hospital in 1899 and entered private practice shortly thereafter. She took postgraduate training at Fordham Hospital in New York in 1908. Lenah Higbee served in the U.S. Navy from 1908-1922. For eleven of her fourteen years of service, Higbee was superintendent of the Navy Corps. Facing continual stalwart resistance and institutionalized discrimination from the male dominated medical community, Higbee rose from her position as a rankless nurse paid considerably less than her male peers to become the second superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps.

She grew the NNC from 160 to over 1300 nurses, served on multiple healthcare committees to prepare the Red Cross for the impacts of World War I, began training hospital corpsmen, and survived the Spanish flu epidemic. She also lobbied for expanded healthcare for military dependents, and formalized Navy nursing uniforms bearing the oak leaf and acorn over an anchor. Her efforts in shaping the NNC caused one paper to conclude “the most needed woman was the war nurse,” and defined her as “a soldier, fighting pain, disease and death with weapons of science and skill.”

In 1945, the Navy commissioned USS Higbee, the first combat warship to be named for a female member of the Navy.

Date of Death / January 10, 1941 (1874-1941)