February 21, 2023

Navy Ship Named After Acclaimed Navy Corps Nurse

Navy Ship Named After Acclaimed Navy Corps Nurse

Image: USS Lenah S. Higbee

The USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG 123), the future guided-missile destroyer for the United States Navy was recently delivered from Huntington Ingalls Industries’ (HII) Ingalls shipbuilding division. 

The name, Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, comes from one of the first nurses and nurses in the U.S. Navy. Higbee entered the Navy in 1908 becoming part of the Sacred Twenty, a group of nurses to formally severe in the Navy representing the Nurse Corps. 

“As the 26th Director of the Navy Nurse Corps I recognize that I am here in no small part because of the vision, initiative and conspicuous achievements of this great warship’s namesake,” said Rear Admiral Cynthia Kuehner, Director of the Nurse Corps. “As the second Superintendent she led the Navy Nurse Corps with awe inspiring distinction. In this evening’s ceremony we celebrate her legacy. We honor her service. And we ensure that the permanence of her indomitable spirit is enshrined and revered by all who behold her.”

Higbee, born in 1874 in New Brunswick, Canada, completed her nursing training at the New York Post-Graduate Hospital in 1899 and then worked in private practice. She continued her education at Fordham Hospital in 1908. She joined the Navy as a 34-year-old widow and quickly rose through the ranks.


Image: Leah Higbee

Less than a year after joining the Navy, she was promoted to Chief Nurse at Norfolk Naval Hospital. She then served as the second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps from 1911 to 1922. Higbee was the first woman awarded the Navy Cross and is still the only living woman ever to receive the award. 

Higbee helped nurses take new roles including teaching corpsmen at hospitals and also serving abroad ships and at overseas activities. Furthermore, during the Spanish flu pandemic, Higbee and other nurses cared for patients in the infectious disease wards. 

“Lenah Higbee understood in the context of World War I and the influenza pandemic of 1918 that nursing’s presence on the front and in the fight is as essential to victory as any other element of modern warfare,” said Kuehner. “With uncommon vision and valor Superintendent Higbee pursued credible standing for the all-female Navy Nurse Corps, fighting within the institution against overt discrimination and for the common basic features of military service including pay, rank, uniforms and even housing.”

The Nurse Corps created a training school for local Chamorro women in Guam educating them on tuberculosis and teaching massage therapy. Additional training was provided in midwifery and keeping up-to-date on current developments in medicine. Higbee focused on the public reputation of the Nurse Corps. She published articles in professional journals such as the American Journal of Nursing and encouraged other Nurse Corps members to do the same. 

“Higbee’s professionalism, leadership and selfless dedication to her nurses and patients reflect on the highest standards of naval service,” said Dr. Regina T. Akers in an article on the World War I Centennial Commission site. “She and her nurses provided the best treatment possible often under some of the worse conditions. Higbee will continue to inspire all who learn of her courage, honor and commitment.”

Higbee now has two ships named after her, one of the greatest honors in the Navy. Her first namesake—USS Higbee (DD-806)—was launched in 1944, just three years after her death. In the upcoming months, the ship will undergo sea trials before commissioning and joining the fleet. 

“I know USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee will protect and defend our nation with the same zeal, courage and valiant resolve of the Navy nurse for whom she is named,” said Kuehner. “I share your inspiration for the many things she is and has yet to become.”

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