Essay on History of the Army Nurse Corps: Virginia Hall and Elsie Ott



Growing up, I primarily viewed courage from a physical standpoint. I thought it was simply taking actions and not being concerned about the bodily consequences or life being put at risk. As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize that there is more to courage than the physical aspects. One of the most important types of courage I have learned about is moral courage. Moral courage is defending principles, standing up for one’s convictions, and acting according to values even in compromising or dangerous situations. Two women who exemplify moral courage to the fullest are Virginia Hall, a World War II spy, and Elsie Ott, a Second Lieutenant in the Air Force. Both women succeeded in fields that were typically dominated by men, and neither of them ever gave up their career and goals due to their gender. In addition, both women put their lives at risk everyday at work in order to better the lives of others. 

Despite the injuries Virginia Hall faced, they never prevented her from defending the country during World War II. Because of her passion, she has been called “‘The most highly decorated female civilian during World War II’” (Myre). Hall was born in Baltimore, Maryland into a wealthy family in which she was raised to be in a “privileged circle.” However, this is not the life Hall wanted for herself; she wanted to be adventurous, take risks, and live her life in the way she preferred. Hall dreamed of becoming a diplomat; however, she was set back by the state department several times due to her gender. She never gave up, and she eventually landed a clerical job in Turkey. This position, however, came to a quick end due to her suffering a hunting accident that resulted in the amputation of her left leg (Katz). Hall never viewed her injury as an end to her life, but instead she took it as an opportunity. Craig Gralley, a retired CIA officer, said, “‘She had been given a second chance at life and wasn't going to waste it. And her injury, in fact, might have kind of bolstered her or reawakened her resilience so that she was in fact able to do great things’” (qtd in Myre). 

Although Hall showed her moral courage by never giving up for things she believed in, this was not the end. After her injury, Hall decided to get back into work and she served as an ambulance driver in France. She was later forced to evacuate, but the evacuation changed her life yet again. She came in contact with a British spy who then brought Hall into contact with Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive (Purnell). “‘Virginia Hall, to a certain extent, was invisible. She was able to play on the chauvinism of the Gestapo at the time. None of the Germans early in the war necessarily thought that a woman was capable of being a spy’" (Myre). The Germans were indeed wrong about Hall. Through her knowledge of languages and ways of escape, she was able to succeed. After some time, her mission became dangerous and she made an escape to Spain, all on her wooden leg. Upon her arrival to France, she set out on her second assignment, which was even better than the first. Hall portrayed her moral courage by never giving up on her dreams and helping others, even if those around her thought the job was too dangerous to continue. 

Similarly to Hall, Elsie Ott, is a strong example of moral courage. Ott was born in 

1913 in Smithtown, New York. She grew up there and later attended Lenox Hill Hospital School of Nursing in New York City. After working in local hospitals, Ott joined the Army Air Force Nurse Corps in 1941, shortly before the attacks on Pearl Harbor. Ott was overlooked both in the hospitals and in the Army due to her gender, but that soon changed. She completed a few small assignments, but little did she know she was about to take on a bigger project than many in the Army had taken. Leaders planned the first evacuation from Karachi, India; however, the necessary training had not been completed. Ott was chosen by necessity and dispatched for this trip. Ott had never been on a plane before, but this did not stop her. She gathered her necessary supplies and left for India, not concerned about the risk she was taking boarding a combat aircraft (Cope). During the trip from India to the United States, several stops were made in which Ott’s patients were able to go to military hospitals to get proper care and cleansing. Tara Ross, a retired lawyer and author, noted, “Ott was with her patients every step of the way” (Ross). The trip was long, hard, and exhausting for Ott, but she never let her fatigue take over because her primary focus was on bettering the lives and wellbeing of her patients. Some disagreed that a woman was cut out for this job; however, her actions never went unnoticed. “Two months after her groundbreaking first flight she was awarded the U.S. Air Medal. She was the first woman in U.S. Army history to obtain such and honor” (Cope). In addition to being awarded the air medal, Ott’s mission led to the first Army Nurse training and it helped promote the normalization of women in the Army. 

Moral courage is necessary for all people to have. It is what allows society to put others above themselves and to do what is right for the good of others. Women like Hall and Ott exemplify moral courage to its fullest and they motivate others to take the step to help others. Moral courage is about more than being brave. It is about taking the actions that can better the lives of others. Based on the determination of Hall and Ott, I hope that I am able to use moral courage to continue to put others before myself just as these women did during the wars and missions they served in. 

Both Hall and Ott were courageous women who put their lives on the line for the sake of others. They have impacted history because they both were in careers often dominated by men, but this never stopped them. The women continued to pursue their dreams in order to help those around them. These women exemplify moral courage because they served to help better the lives of those around them, and they made a greater impact on the future of other women and “male dominated” careers. Lasty, Both women went into jobs where people did not think they would succeed and they made decisions that benefited the majority of the people, no matter the challenges and circumstances they faced during their work.