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Fri, 10.21.1921

Edith DeVoe, Naval Nurse born

Edith DeVoe

*Edith DeVoe was born on this date in 1921.  She was a Black nurse.  Edith Mazie DeVoe was born in Washington, D. C. to Sadie Frances (née Dent) and Joseph Edward DeVoe.

Her parents were employed in government service, and the family consisted of four children, Elizabeth, Edith, Joseph, and Sadie. Her brother died in 1934, and both of her sisters became nurses. She completed her primary education attending Randall Junior High and Dunbar High Schools. DeVoe enrolled in nursing school with her sister Elizabeth at the Freedman's Hospital nursing school, graduating in 1942. She then supplemented her education with public health nursing courses in Richmond, Virginia, at the St. Philip School of Nursing.   A family consumer service advocate, DeVoe began her career working for the Visiting Nurse Association.

On April 18, 1945, one week after the first Black navy nurse, Phyllis Mae Daley, was assigned active duty, DeVoe was commissioned as an ensign in the United States Navy Reserve. She was assigned to her first active duty on June 13, 1945, and served for two years during World War II at the Boston Navy Yard. In mid-1947, she was assigned to the Naval Mine Warfare Test Station in Solomons, Maryland.  

On January 6, 1948, DeVoe was transferred to the Navy Nurse Corps and assigned to the Navy Communication Annex Dispensary in Washington, D. C., as the first black nurse in the regular navy.  In March 1948, when Congress was deliberating on whether women should permanently become part of the military, Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Harlem’s Representative to the House, argued that the Nurses’ Corps should be permanent, that the military should be fully desegregated and emphasized that DeVoe was the only Black nurse serving the 19,337 Black servicemen in the navy.  

In 1949, DeVoe earned the rank of Lieutenant and was assigned to the St. Albans Naval Hospital in the Queens borough of Long Island.  The following year, she became the first Black nurse assigned to a duty station outside the U.S. mainland when she was sent to the Tripler Army-Navy Hospital. Her assignment was to assist the evacuees and injured serving in the Korean War.  On May 1, 1952, DeVoe became a full Lieutenant and, in August, was transferred to the naval hospital in Pasadena, California.  

She was in a car accident in 1955 while serving at the Oakland Naval Hospital, and on April 1, 1956, she was placed on the temporary disabilities list.  She returned to duty and retired from military service in 1960 in Oakland, returning to Washington, D. C.  Edith DeVoe died from lung cancer on November 17, 2000. at Cherry Lane Nursing Center in Laurel, Prince George's County, Maryland, and was buried at Quantico National Cemetery in Triangle, Virginia.  

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