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Navy ship named in honor of one of service’s first nurses

USS Lenah S. Higbee dressed for the ceremony. (Michael Duhe/US Navy/Released)

The USS Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, a guided-missile destroyer, was recently launched by the United States Navy. The ship, christened in 2021, is named after one of the U.S. Navy’s first ever nurses.

Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee entered service in 1908 as part of the “Sacred Twenty,” the U.S. Navy’s first nurses. Within three years, she had gained leadership of the corps as the forerunner of today’s Director of Nurse Corps.

Rear Admiral Cynthia Kuehner served as the representative of the Chief of Naval Operations at the ship’s christening, where he spoke about what Higbee means to the Nurse Corps and Navy Medicine.

“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,” Kuehner said. “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’s care for thousands of casualties in World War I and during the so-called Spanish Flu epidemic that followed ultimately earned her a Navy Cross.

“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,” Kuehner added. “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.”


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