A Soldier's Story: Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee


Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee was born in Washington, D.C., on November 4, 1864. She attended private schools in the Washington, D.C., area. She was educated in Europe at Newham College and the University of Geneva before graduating with her medical degree in 1892 from Columbian College (now Georgetown University). Surgeon McGee also took specialized courses in Gynecology from John Hopkins University. 

Civically active, Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee was a founding member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and was among the organization's first officers. Additionally, Surgeon McGee joined the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Women's Anthropological Society of America.

In 1898, when the Spanish-American war erupted, Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee worked in the Daughters of the American Revolution as the Director of the DAR Hospital Corps to screen nurse applicants for U.S. Army training camps and deployment to Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines. In October 1898, she was assigned the Assistant Surgeon (a rank equivalent to that of Lieutenant), making her the only woman officer during the Spanish American War. 

After the war, Surgeon McGee attacked the problem of nurse pay and benefits. All the women who volunteered came from private or religious organizations, were paid contractors, and received no military or veteran benefits. Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee wrote Article 19 of the U.S. Army Reorganization Bill, guaranteeing nurses' positions within the Army, creating a chief nurse position within the command structure, and veteran benefits for the nurses who enlist. The Army Nurses Corps became a permanent part of the U.S. Army in 1901 with the passage of the Reorganization Bill.

In 1904 she volunteered again for the U.S. Army, establishing a field hospital in Japan during the Russo-Japanese war, training nurses for the Japanese Red Cross, and inspecting Korean field hospitals. Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee left active military service in 1905.

After her time in Japan, Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee worked to create the Spanish American War Nurses Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, which was dedicated in 1905.

Surgeon McGee moved to California, where she lectured at the University of California and traveled extensively throughout the country to talk. She summoned many women to take on more intellectual roles within their communities.

Surgeon Anita Newcomb McGee died on October 5, 1940. She rests at Arlington.

In 1966, the Daughters of the American Revolution created the "Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee Award to the Outstanding Army Nurse of the Year" in her honor.   


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

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