Fierce Females: Annie G. Fox

Although American women couldn’t join the military on a permanent basis until 1948, they had been enlisting since Loretta Walsh became the first woman allowed to serve in any branch of the military in 1917. This month, we’re introducing you to Annie G. Fox, an Army nurse who was the first woman to receive the Purple Heart.

Annie Gayton Fox was born on Aug. 4, 1893, in East Pubnico, Nova Scotia, in Canada to Annie and Charles Fox, a doctor. Nothing is known of her life before 1918, when she enlisted to serve in the Army Nurse Corps in World War I or why she chose to do so. After her tour ended on July 14, 1920, she was based in New York, then Fort Sam Houston in Texas, and Fort Mason in San Diego. Annie was then transferred to the Philippines where she served at Camp John Hay in Benguet and then in Manilla.

In 1940, she returned to the United States, where she was stationed in Honolulu, Hawaii. There, she passed her exam to become Chief Nurse, was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and was transferred to Hickam Air Field Station Hospital, a small 30-bed hospital with six nurses.

Less than a month later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Victims were sent to hospitals all over the island, including Hickam, where Annie was in charge. The noise of torpedoes, bombs, machine guns, and anti-aircraft guns was deafening and bombs fell all around the hospital, one leaving a 30-foot crater 20 feet from the hospital and another exploded across the street. Hospital staff, wearing gas masks and helmets, reported trying to save the wounded while enemy aircraft flew so close overhead that they could see the pilots conversing.

Annie not only cared for the wounded and assisted in surgery during the attack, but also organized civilian volunteers to provide assistance and make bandages. For her “outstanding performance of duty and meritorious acts of extraordinary fidelity” during this ordeal she was awarded the Purple Heart on Oct. 26, 1942, becoming the first woman to receive it. (At this time, recipients were not required to have been seriously wounded to receive this honor.)

The citation describes what Annie experienced and how she reacted:

“During the attack, Lieutenant Fox, in an exemplary manner, performed her duties as head Nurse of the Station Hospital… in addition she administered anesthesia to patients during the heaviest part of the bombardment, assisted in dressing the wounded, taught civilian volunteer nurses to make dressings, and worked ceaselessly with coolness and efficiency, and her fine example of calmness, courage and leadership was of great benefit to the morale of all with whom she came in contact….”

Two years later, the military added the stipulation that recipients of the Purple Heart had to sustain wounds during enemy action. As a result, on Oct. 6, 1944, Annie, now a Captain, was given a Bronze Star in lieu of her Purple Heart. The Bronze Star Medal is “awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.”

After the war, Annie continued her military career in San Francisco, and then as Assistant to the Principal Chief Nurse at Camp Phillips, Kansas, where she was promoted to Major. She retired from active duty on Dec. 15, 1945, two years before President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law, allowing women to serve as full members of all branches of the Armed Forces.

Annie eventually moved to San Diego to be with two of her sisters. She never married.  She died January 20, 1987, in San Francisco, at the age of 93.

In March 2017, Hawaii Magazine ranked her among a list of the most influential women in Hawaiian history.

Fearless Females: Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) Mahoney

August 1 was the anniversary of Mary Elizabeth (Eliza) Mahoney becoming the first Black woman to graduate from an American school of nursing. She’s considered the first officially trained Black nurse in the United States.

Early Life

Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in April or May of 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts, to parents who were freed slaves, originally from North Carolina. She attended the Phillips School, one of the first integrated schools in Boston (and the United States), for her early education, which is said to have influenced her later decision to become a nurse.

But in order to do that, she faced an uphill battle. Nursing schools in the South rejected applications from Black women and even in the North their opportunities were limited. For 15 years, the closest she could come was to work 16-hour days as a cook, maid and washerwoman at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston – which was dedicated to providing health care only to women and their children and had an all-female staff of physicians.

Nursing Training

When the hospital (now the Dimock Community Health Center) opened a nursing program in 1878, Mary Eliza applied. Despite being two years older than the technical admission criteria, she was accepted at age 33 to a 16-month program, alongside 39 other students. Of this entire class, Mary Eliza and two white women were the only ones to receive their degree. (Mary Eliza’s sister, Ellen Mahoney, also decided to attend the same nursing program but was unsuccessful in receiving her diploma.)

It’s not hard to see why. The training was rigorous with the shift running from 5:30 a.m. – 9:30 p.m. for only meager wages. Students were required to spend time over the course of a year in all the hospital’s wards so that by the time they graduated, they understood each one intimately. Outside of lectures, they were taught bedside procedures such as taking vital signs and bandaging. The last two months of the program required the nurses to use their newfound knowledge and skills in environments they were not accustomed to such as hospitals or private family homes. Mary Eliza chose to work as a private-duty nurse.

On August 1, 1879, Mary Eliza became the first Black woman to graduate from an American school of nursing and is considered the first officially trained Black nurse in the United States.

Career

Mary Eliza worked for many years as a private care nurse, predominately in white households with new mothers and newborns. During the early years of her employment, Black nurses were often treated as if they were household servants rather than professionals. Nevertheless, families who employed her praised her efficiency in her nursing profession. Mary Eliza’s professionalism helped raise the status and standards of all nurses, especially minorities. As her reputation spread, she received private-duty nursing requests from patients in states in the North and on the southeast coast.

In 1908, Mary Eliza worked closely with Martha Minerva Franklin and Adah B. Thoms who founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN.] This organization attempted to uplift the standards and everyday lives of Black registered nurses and had a significant influence on eliminating racial discrimination in the profession until it was integrated into the American Nurses Association in 1951. From 1910 to 1930 alone, the number of Black nurses doubled, thanks to Mary Eliza’s efforts.

From 1911 to 1912, Mary Eliza served as director of the Howard Colored Orphan Asylum for Black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York, a home for freed Black children and elderly. After one year on the job, she decided to retire.

Later Life

Her nursing career complete, Mary Eliza focused her attention on women’s suffrage. In 1920, after women won the vote, she was among the first women in Boston to register.

In 1923, Mary Eliza was diagnosed with breast cancer, a battle she fought for three years until her death at the age of 80 on January 4, 1926.

In recognition of her outstanding example to nurses of all races, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936. It is still given out today by the American Nurses Association every two years in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for members of minority groups.

Mary Eliza received many posthumous honors and awards for her pioneering work. She was inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Her name also graces a health center in Oklahoma City, a dialysis center in Boston and a lecture series at Indiana University Northwest.

If you’d like to learn more about her, check out Susan Muaddi Darraj’s book Mary Eliza Mahoney and the Legacy of African-American Nurses.

Two-Book Traditional Publishing Deal!

So…I have news!

I am over-the-moon excited! I’m finally a hybrid author! This has been a long time coming and I am so excited to write these books. Here’s a little more about them:

Obviously, not the real cover.

Sex and the City: A Cultural History
This book will provide cultural context and analysis of the famous show, both how it affected cultural as it aired and also how it looks now 20+ years later. Some topics include:

  • Looking at what it means to relate to each of the girls (ala, Are you a Carrie? A Samantha? A Miranda? A Charlotte?)
  • What the men in the show illustrate about masculinity and what that means about the kinds of men women are attracted to.
  • Issues like diversity or lack thereof, treatment of sex and sexuality, LGBTQIA portrayal.
  • How the show made New York a character, built brands, influenced fashion and reflected third wave feminism.
  • And a lot more!

I have an end of year deadline, so hopefully the book will come out around the time the reboot, And Just Like That, airs.

Fierce Females in Television: A Cultural History

Thank God, not the real cover!

This book will briefly discuss the nature of physically strong women on TV from the 1950s-1980s, but will focus specifically on the 1990s to today because that is when we saw a major ramp up in the portrayal of these kinds of women.

Shows covered include: Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Charmed (1998-2006), Alias (2001-2006), Nikita (2010-2013), Agent Carter (2015-2016), Jessica Jones (2015-2019), Game of Thrones (2011-2019), and Homeland (2011-2020).

Some of the topics include:

  • An analysis of the main female characters on each show.
  • The meaning of female strength and friendships/family.
  • The influence of third- and fourth-wave feminism on the shows and their characters.
  • Treatment of sex and diversity.
  • The role of redemption narratives and change in female lives.
  • And more!

This book will be out sometime in 2023/24.

Between these, the League of Women Voters book (due Oct. 4) and at least one work of historical fiction, you know what my next few months and even my 2022 will look like!