United States WWII cadet nurses: Stateside heroes

Nurse cadets staffed hospitals during WWII

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WZZM) - It was World War II: a time in American history where everyone was needed to do their part.

Across the nation hospital staffing was reduced by 40% because so many were serving overseas.

In just three months, Congress passed the Francis Payne Bolton Act, which created the United States Cadet Nurse Corps as a means to staff hospitals.

Spectrum Health's then-Butterworth Hospital was one of 1,100 hospitals across the nation to participate in the program. And Joyce Nash Winchester was one of 250 nurses to answer that call in Grand Rapids.

At 18, Joyce joined a few thousand other young women across the nation to become part of the United States Cadet Nurse Corps. "During the war they said that the cadet nurses and the nursing students staffed 80% of the hospitals," she said.

The Frances Payne Bolton Act was created to fill a desperate need as doctors and nurses answered the call to serve our country. At the time, staffing at Butterworth was down 40%.

The Act provided free education to women willing to become nurses. "They took care of our books, our tuition, our room and board; they took care of all the costs of the school of nursing, so I did not have to pay anything," Joyce said. In turn, they made a pledge to serve their country, "that we would do nursing in either hospitals or military until the end of the war." And 72 years later, Joyce still carries her pledge card.

"We could sometimes be in charge of a whole floor at night. That was how they really put us into nursing very quickly, and we were at the bedside and in charge very quickly." Joyce says the days were long, but rewarding, "We were a group of friends, the nurses were. So we would go back to the dorm at night and talk about our experiences."

In the history room at Spectrum Health's Butterworth Campus, Joyce reminisces, "The syringes and needles -- they didn't come in little packages. We had to wash them and sterilize them." She reminisces not just about her cadet nursing but also her time as a young woman growing up in Grand Rapids. Joyce wore her uniform proudly, served her country, and was forever changed by her experience as part of our nation's Cadet Nurse Corps. "That was a wonderful time of my life."

Joyce went on to have a long career in nursing which included teaching nurses. She retired in 1981.


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