Julia C. Stimson (1881 - 1948)

Julia C. Stimson
Julia C. Stimson, 1917

Julia Catherine Stimson was born in May 1881 in Worcester, Massachusetts. Julia Stimson first lived in St. Louis from 1886 until 1893, while her father served as pastor of Pilgrim Congregational Church. The family then moved to New York City, where Julia finished high school. She entered Vassar College at the age of 16, receiving her A.B. degree in 1901. Though Julia Stimson was interested in becoming a physician, her family disapproved. (Seventeen years later Julia’s younger sister, Barbara Bartlett Stimson, was allowed to study medicine. She received a medical degree from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1923.) Instead, Julia studied medical illustration at Cornell University Medical College and biology at Columbia University, followed by entering the New York Hospital School of Nursing in 1904. After her graduation in 1908, Stimson served as superintendent of Nurses at the newly opened Harlem Hospital until 1911.

In August 1911 Stimson accepted an offer to lead the newly created Social Service Department at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, making her one of the first professional social workers in St. Louis. Stimson was instrumental in expanding the services of the department, enlisting the aid of volunteers, and raising money to fund salaries. In 1914 Stimson assumed the position of director of the Washington University Training School for Nurses in addition to her duties in medical social service. While fulfilling her professional responsibilities, Stimson found time to complete a master’s degree in sociology from Washington University in 1917.

That degree was awarded in absentia, however, as Stimson had already departed for military service in Europe. Stimson joined the Army Nurse Corps and became chief nurse of Base Hospital 21, a unit composed chiefly of doctors and nurses associated with Washington University and Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. Julia Stimson served as chief nurse of Base Hospital 21 until April 1918, when she left to become head of the Red Cross Nursing Service and later chief nurse of the American Expeditionary Forces. For her service in France during the war, the United States government awarded Stimson the Distinguished Service Medal.

After her service in the First World War, Stimson remained with the military, becoming the superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps and the first dean of the Army School of Nursing. In 1920 she became the first woman to achieve the rank of major in the U.S. Army. Stimson retired from the Army in 1937 and then served as president of the American Nurses Association from 1938 until 1944. Stimson returned to the Army during World War II to recruit nurses to the Army Nurse Corps, retiring a second time at the end of the war. Stimson was promoted to the rank of full colonel six weeks before her death, at the age of 67, in 1948.