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Black Arts and Culture

Hazel W. Johnson: 1st Black Woman Promoted To General Ranks

By Jaelyn Scott
Spring Intern
New Journal and Guide

Hazel Winifred Johnson was born on October 10, 1927, in West Chester, Pennsylvania. She was born to Clarence L. Johnson Sr. And Garnett Henley Johnson, who were farmers that made a living from livestock and selling their crops. She had four brothers and two sisters, and she spent most of her childhood nearby in the rural Quaker town on Malvern. From an early age, Johnson knew she wanted to be a nurse and excelled in school until she graduated high school in the 1940s. After she graduated, she applied to the West Chester school of Nursing, but she was unfortunately rejected due to her race.

Despite this, she did not give up on her goals, and decided instead to travel to New York and attend the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing in New York, a school that was specifically for Black women, and graduated in 1950. From there, she trained in the Harlem Hospital Emergency Ward for three years before she decided to move back to Pennsylvania.

From here, she found a job at the Philadelphia Veterans Association, and started working here while also working on her baccalaureate degree in Nursing at the Villanova University. Within three months of working there, she became the head nurse and was familiar with the Army Nurse Corps at the Hospital. She became interested in the opportunities and travels that were offered, and in 1955, decided to enlist in the Army.

On her first tour she served on the female medical surgical ward at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and worked at the 8169th Hosptial in camp Zama, Japan. After her tour, she left the army in 1957 to continue her part-time study at Villanova. However, a year later she committed to the Army Nurse Corps’ registered nurse student program, which offered financial assistance for those with a nursing diploma who were pursuing a baccalaureate. After graduating in 1959, she decided to return to the Amy.

During her time in the army, she served on active duty at Madigan General Hospital, before being transferred to the Walter Reed Hospital from 1960 to 1962. She served several leadership roles in this position and found her love for teaching. This inspired her to earn her master’s degree in science in Nursing at the Columbia University’s Teachers college in 1963. She would later be sponsored by the army to receive her Doctor of Philosophy in Education Administration degree from Catholic University in 1973, becoming the director of the Walter Reed institute of Nursing in the process.

1979 was the year she made history. After serving at the chief nurse in a tour in Seoul, South Korea, Hazel Johnson became the first Black woman to be promoted to brigadier general. She was the third woman and first Black woman to ever be promoted to this position.

Upon receiving this position, Johnson did all that she could to encourage more diversity in the army, developing scholarships for the ROTC nurses and offering nursing clinical camps for ROTC cadets to increase diversified enrollment. Even after retiring in 1983, she taught at the nursing schools of Georgetown University and George Mason University.

While teaching at George Mason, she helped found the Center for Health Policy, Research, and Ethics, which was an institution that continues to promote independent research while at George Mason.

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Johnson’s career was decorated, receiving awards like the distinguished Service Medal and Army Commendation Medal.

She also earned the title of “Army Nurse of the Year” twice during her career. She spent the remaining years of her life staying with her sister in Delaware before she unfortunately passed away in 2011, and is buried in the Arlington National Cemetery.

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