|Delaware Military History
Lucile Petry Leone
Lucile Petry Leone, Recruiter of Nurses During World War II
Lucile Petry Leone, of Selbyville Delaware was the founding director of the United
States Cadet Nurse Corps, which recruited more than 100,000 young women to study
nursing and helped spare the country of the need to draft nurses in World War II.
As early as the summer of 1941, months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor,
there was talk in Washington that it might be necessary to conscript nurses to care for
the inevitable high number of casualties there would be should the United States
become engaged in a major war.
A less radical alternative -- and a much more politically acceptable one -- was
temporarily agreed upon. The United States Public Health Service would start a
program to attract young women at schools throughout the country into nursing.
Lucile Petry, a teacher at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing, was chosen
to initiate the program.
Two years later, after the United States was at war in both Europe and Asia, Ms.
Leone founded and directed the Cadet Nurse Corps, a more formal effort to start
women on a path to nursing. The program, authorized by Congress in 1943, offered to
cover the cost of a candidate's tuition, fees, room and board, books, monthly stipends
and snappy navy-style uniforms.
In exchange, said Ellen Schell, a nursing historian based in San Francisco, candidates
had to ''promise to participate in essential military or civilian nursing for as long as
the war lasted.''
The Cadet Nurse Corps proved a success, meeting its recruitment quotas in 1943 and
1944 and outstripping them in the final year of the war, when there were 112,000
cadets in the program. As a consequence, the United States never had to draft nurses
into the armed services during the war.
Explaining the success of the Cadet Nurse Corps, Ms. Leone told an interviewer in
1945: ''We had a saleable package from the beginning. The girls immediately liked the
idea of being able to combine war service with professional education for the future.''
She also gave credit to the organization's slogan, ''Custodians of the Crises of Life.''
In 1949, Ms. Leone became the first woman to direct a division of the United States
Public Health Service, the Division of Nurse Education. Her rank was equivalent to
that of an admiral.
''In that capacity,'' said Zina Mirsky, assistant dean for administration at the School of
Nursing of the University of California at San Francisco, ''she established the role of
nursing in the federal government -- a presence that still exists.''
Ms. Leone retired from government service in 1966 and went on to teach nursing and
serve as associate dean at Texas Women's University. She retired again in 1971.
Lucile Petry, the only child of a high school principal and his wife, was born on Jan.
23, 1902, in Frog Heaven, in Preble County, Ohio. She was reared in Selbyville, Del.,
and after graduating from the University of Delaware in 1924, she received advanced
degrees at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing in 1927 and Columbia
Teachers College in 1929. She taught at the Yale School of Nursing and the University
of Minnesota School of Nursing before being summoned to Washington.
Ms. Leone's marriage to Nicholas Leone ended in divorce in 1967. She died in
December 1999 at the age of 97.