The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps was created during World War II to help fill the home front nursing shortage in military and civilian hospitals, clinics, and public health services. In 1943 nursing schools around the country were invited to join the program and grants were provided to help train nurses. Cadets were eligible for a government subsidy that paid for tuition, books, and uniforms, and included a small stipend. In return, Cadets pledged to actively serve in essential nursing for the duration of the war.
Cadets were able to complete their training in 30 months instead of the traditional 36 months required of nursing programs. Toward the end of the program, Senior Cadets were placed in civilian, federal or military hospitals, or Indian, public health or rural health services.
The Nebraska State Historical Society has a variety of Cadet Nurse Corps uniforms and promotional materials, including a collection from Opal Reighter.
Opal started her nurses’ training in 1942, before the establishment of the Cadet Nurse Corps, and was training at Broadlawns Polk County Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. She joined the Corps in 1943, and continued training at Broadlawns.
On December 30, 1944, after completing 30 months of training, Opal’s class from Broadlawns was sent to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Seattle. There, they took care of surgical patients or those who were ill that had come from the hospital ships. In doing so, they were able to release three regular Navy nurses for active duty wherever needed.
Opal recalled, “We wore our school nurse uniform while on duty, but wore dress uniform when we went off base. We received $20.00 a month, [were] given officers privileges and lived in the Navy nurse officer quarters on the compound.”
Opal recalled that her class was able to take state board exams in Seattle and then received their diplomas when they returned to their home hospital in Des Moines. Most of the cadets had applications in the Navy Nurse Corps and they waited to be called for duty. This never happened because the war ended.
After the end of war, the Cadet Nurse Corps continued until the last class of sponsored students graduated in 1948.
-Laura Mooney, Museum Registrar