A Profession with a Future

by Marion Emerson

The 1940’s nurse shortage was a serious concern of the U.S. Public Health Service. The health of the United States civilian and military depended on training more nurses. Even with $5 million spent, the government’s efforts failed to gather a substantial number of women for nurse training.

Francis Payne Bolton, a United States Republican Representative of Ohio, who was a lifetime champion of nurse education and minorities, authored The Nurse Training Act or Bolton Act of 1943. It designating $160 million for The Cadet Nurse Corps (CNC). This was a free federal nurse training program that recruited and trained women ages 17-35, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity. A multimedia advertising campaign emphasized that nursing was a profession & that the CNC offered a free education. It glamorized nurses in modern uniforms in films and posters and emphasized service to the country. The successful campaign recruited over 124,000 women from all backgrounds and ethnicities including Native Americans, and Japanese Nisei Americans from internment camps.


My mother, Mary Frances Twiss, grew up in the rural mining town of Vanadium, New Mexico. In the 1940 census, the county’s population was 5,000. In her high school classroom, hung a CNC advertising poster prompting her to "Enlist in a Proud Profession, join the Cadet Nurse Corps" and "A Lifetime Education- FREE!". So in 1945, at the age of 17, Mom enlisted in the Cadet Nurse Corps and enrolled at Saint Anthony Hospital School of Nursing in Denver, Colorado. Mom kept a photo album of those days. Looking through the vintage photos, It was clear that in those three years; close bonds were created. She graduated with a class of 30 Cadet Nurses on May 20, 1948. She was the only one of the three sisters who got an education beyond high school. Mom worked at Saint Anthony's hospital until she married Dad. Together they raised two girls and five boys. She passed away May 5, 2015. 

I was always uplifted and proud to say my Mom was a nurse. She was courageous to enlisted in the Cadet Nurse Corps without her family’s encouragement & leave a tiny community for a huge city. After her passing, I found her Cadet Nurse Corps winter cape in her closet. She had kept it for 67 years. Knowing that I’d quilt something worthwhile with the cape, I put it in my stash. The Century of Women's Progress Quilt Competition inspired me to honor my mother. Mom’s Cadet Nurse Corps cape, a charcoal grey wool is now a quilt, and the cape will live on to tell Mom’s inspirational story for generations.