Types of Duty
The Role of Women
Women's participated actively in the PHS.
The United States was very progressive in women's rights, and used every
human resource in World War II to further victory, regardless of social
objections. Therefore, qualified women were placed in the front-line of
all PHS work based on their ability. Naturally, this would be true for
nurses but was also true for female scientists and medical doctors. This
led to many opportunities for women not available elsewhere.
||Since 1912, professionally
trained graduate female nurses worked in public health hospitals more widely.
Their work included general
district nursing, tuberculosis nursing, school nursing, infant welfare,
visiting in mill villages, emergency communicable disease control, and
venereal disease clinic work.
Left Picture: Black PHS nurse
with her medical bag (1920s).
|The first women employed on
the scientific staff of the Hygienic Laboratory were bacteriologists Ida
A. Bengston, on the left, and Alice C. Evans.
Ms. Bengston was particularly
noted for her studies of bacterial toxins and Ms. Evans research of undulant
fever caused by contaminated milk hastened the spread of the pasteurization
movement in the United States.
For example, a woman with a Ph.D. in Physics
or Chemistry could find uniformed service duty in the PHS much more important
and glamorous, than if she joined a military branch (where she would just
be another lieutenant serving beside with those having basic or little
These nurse officers are
wearing the white uniforms of the commissioned corps of the Public Health
Service during World War II.
||Another example would be a woman aviator who
was also a doctor. She might join the WASP and fly planes, or join the
Navy and be a medical officer. In the PHS, she could become a both an aviator
and flight surgeon.
Finally, a nurse could be selected for top
national assignment with the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) from the
In the following a few examples of possible
extraordinary duties of female PHS personnel:
A nurse could have been detailed to the United
States Public Health Service Consolidated Surveillance Team, Residual Radiation
Survey, located in Hiroshima and Nagasaki
during 6 October 1945 - 2 November 1945. Her
mission might have been to determine radioactive contamination levels resulting
from the Hiroshima atomic weapon (a gun-assembly type that employed U-235
as the fissionable material) and the Nagasaki atomic weapon (a Pu-239 implosion
Other PHS nurses might have parachuted into
occupied countries (Norway, France, Greece, etc.) as part of larger OSS
teams dispatched to aid resistance fighters with weapons, medicines and
The Public Health Service was part of the Federal
Security Agency during World War II, which meant that it operated at a
level beyond the War Department and the Army or Navy. Many medical officers
were assigned to duty either with the armed services or the War Shipping
Administration. Additional medical officers were assigned to the Coast
Guard. The Service became fully engaged in combat operations, to include
medical support of Office of Strategic Services and its clandestine special
operations. The military status of the Public Health Service was confirmed
in 1943, reinforced in 1944 and it became a full part of the military forces
|The hospital facilities of the Public Health
Service were made available for the care of patients whose treatment was
requested or authorized by the Army or the Navy.
As a result, the Service became actively involved
in military operations on land and sea. The PHS also provided medical services
for wartime prisons and detention facilities.
The San Francisco Public
Health Service Hospital with ambulances parked in front of it (c.1920).
Posters like this one from
1940 were a popular part of the health education program.
||The Service was also active in other war services.
It acted as the approving agency for construction of public health, sanitation,
and hospital facilities under the Lanham Act. Service personnel cooperated
with military authorities and other Federal agencies in the development
of their medical and public health programs.
Venereal disease control activities were intensified
and rapid treatment centers for infected persons were established. Provisions
of the Venereal Disease Act of July 9, 1918, and the amendment to the act
approved May 24, 1939, were embodied in the Public Health Service Act of
|Special programs were set up to control plague,
typhus fever, malaria, and tuberculosis. The Tuberculosis Control Section
was as redesignated Division of Tuberculosis Control, by the Public Health
Service Act of 1944 (58 Stat. 682) on July 1, 1944.
The Office of Malaria Control in War Areas
dispatched medical personnel to forward areas of fighting in the Pacific
and the China-Burma-India Theater.
The Malaria Control Unit
of the Philippines Public Health Rehabilitation Program in front of their
headquarters, c. 1946.
The nation's highest medical needs were attended
to, above the level of the War Department (i.e., above Army and Navy levels)
by using PHS resources.
||The OSS acquired female medical personnel
for top-echelon and secretive missions, by gaining necessary personnel
from the PHS. Potential recruits were selected from the Cadet Nurse Corps
(CNC) and graduated into the PHS to undertake high-risk and high-value
The CNC was the primary PHS recruitment base,
although many completed an accelerated training program. Probably the best
and most willing were identified and then expedited in preparation for
Several factors contributed to this situation:
||The US Public Health Service was part of
the Federal Security Agency of the United States Government during World
||The Commissioned Corps of the Public Health
Service had been uniformed and in service for decades, but was not part
of the armed forces. Yet most people in the country did not even know that
a national Surgeon General and Assistant Surgeons General existed, or that
a force of commissioned officers of this type existed.
||The Public Health Service was small compared
to the Army and Navy, and did not seek volunteers with major recruitment
campaigns. During the war, the PHS could recruit directly from its own
CNC and other resources in a more quiet and effective manner.
||Because PHS officers were already a uniformed
force, existing at the highest national level, it could be used to fill
special duties (especially above Army and Navy) with expert professionals
of the highest quality and levels of trust. It could easily draw on both
men and women who were commissioned officers with high prewar standards
and impeccable credentials (graduate degrees, medical capability, etc.).
||Finally, the PHS was mostly involved in
national public health matters that were not strictly military in nature
(thus justifying its existence before and after every war).
Nevertheless, only a small elite portion of
the PHS Commissioned Corps served in direct combat or secret assignments.
The Public Health Service cooperated with health
agencies at every level pertaining to public health, health education,
and sanitation. The Public Health Service Act of 1944 directed the PHS
to help states, counties, health districts, and other political subdivisions
establish and maintain adequate public health services, including the training
of health workers. This legislation also enabled the Public Health Service
to develop measures to prevent, treat, and control tuberculosis and to
assist states involved in the tuberculosis control program.
|The Public Health Service helped in many emergency
health activities. For example, the Service assisted state and local health
authorities to maintain proper sanitation facilities and provide other
health protective measures in military, naval, and industrial areas where
large concentrations of troops or abnormal increases in population existed
as the result of war industrial activities. Services to the States in the
development of industrial hygiene programs were expanded.
Dental clinic at the New
Orleans Public Health Service Hospital, c. 1935.
The National Institute of Health and field stations
investigated the causes and methods of prevention of diseases under the
Public Health Service Act. This act, which embodied provisions of the National
Cancer Institute Act of August 5, 1937, also authorized the National Cancer
||Diseases of special importance to the military
forces were studied. Yellow fever and typhus vaccine were supplied to the
Army and Navy.
Rocky Mountain spotted fever vaccines were
distributed for both Army and civilian use. Nutritional research related
to military needs was accelerated. Laboratory investigations expanded in
New industrial substances and processes were
studied. Advanced research was conducted in aviation medicine.
Biologic Warfare and Products
A biological weapons program was initiated in
1943 that assembled and stored thousands of anthrax bombs, but the American
biological warfare programs never matched those of France, Canada, Great
Britain and Japan. On the home-front, the Public Health Service supervised
the manufacture and sale of biologic and analogous products used in the
prevention and treatment of disease through inspection of plants, tests
of products, and license. This insured, to the highest degree possible,
the purity and potency of standard products. Standards for the collection,
drying, and storage of human blood plasma for wounded soldiers were established
by the PHS.
and Preventing Spread of Disease
Staff of the Laboratory of Biologics
Like this picture shows, the
laboratory staff included several women
Hospitalization and Institutions
|The Public Health Service conducted maritime
quarantine activities, in order to prevent the introduction of disease
The PHS made physical examinations of immigrants,
and inspected passengers and crews of vessels and airplanes arriving from
foreign ports. The Service tried prevent spread of communicable diseases
between the states.
Quarantine surveillance was intensified throughout
the war, especially at airports, maritime ports, continental borders, and
in the Caribbean area.
Medical officers of the
Public Health Service's Division of Foreign Quarantine inspecting crews
of cargo vessels from foreign ports (c. 1930).
Staff of a New Orleans PHS
hospital wearing the
PHS outdoor dress uniform, 1939-1940
||The Public Health Service furnished hospital
treatment in 150 ports of the United States and its possessions, provided
by 25 marine hospitals, 120 other relief stations, and 133 contract hospitals
(located in ports not served by the marine hospitals).
The Service operated a hospital for treatment
of those with leprosy (the National Leprosarium in Carville, Louisiana);
staffed two hospitals for the treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts;
and administered Freedmen's Hospital in the District of Columbia.
It also studied and issued information on
mental diseases, and supervised the medical and psychiatric services within
federal penal and correctional institutions under the Department of Justice,
as provided by the act of May 13, 1930.
Dissemination of Public Health
The Public Health Service collected, compiled,
and published reports of communicable diseases in the United States and
foreign countries, as well as other information relating to public health.
It disseminated general health information through publications, exhibits,
moving picture films stereopticon slides, posters, and other educational
Administration of Regulatory
|WWII advertisement informing
soldiers and other citizens about the new wonder medication penicillin
which was first introduced in 1943 in limited amounts and then in massive
quantities by 1944.
Penicillin had revolutionary
effects in controlling infections and venereal disease.
|The regulatory functions of the Public Health
Service concerned administration of laws and the regulations relating to
maritime and interstate quarantine. and to the control of manufacture and
sale of biological and analogous products.
The Cadet Nurse Corps
Presentation of the Cadet
Nurse Corps in Washington, D.C., in June 1944.
||Under the provisions of the Bolton
Act, the Public Health Service administered a program of nurse education.
The war nurse training program called for recruitment
and training of 125,000 new nurses during 1944 and 1945. Trainees enrolled
in the U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps received free training, maintenance, uniforms,
and a monthly stipend.
Click here for Cadet Nurse
[ I. Development ]..[
II. Facts about the PHS ]..[
III. PHS Uniforms ]..[
IV. Sources ]