During Black History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Hazel Johnson-Brown, the first African American female brigadier general.
Growing up in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Hazel Johnson-Brown decided to become a nurse when she was 12 years old. After graduating high school, Johnson-Brown applied to the Chester School of Nursing, but was denied due to her race. She then applied and received acceptance to the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing in New York. She graduated in 1950. After graduating, she spent three years working in Harlem Hospital’s emergency ward. Upon returning to Pennsylvania, Johnson-Brown served in the medical cardiovascular ward at the Philadelphia VA Hospital, where she became head nurse within three months of starting. While working at the VA hospital, she learned of the opportunities offered by the Army Nurse Corps and applied in 1955.
Johnson-Brown initially worked in the female medical-surgical ward at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. She subsequently worked in an obstetrical unit at the 8169th Hospital in Camp Zama, Japan. After earning her bachelor’s degree in 1959 from Villanova, Johnson-Brown worked at Madigan General Hospital in Washington. She received additional training at Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco. From 1960 to 1962, Johnson-Brown served as an operating room nurse at Walter Reed. She later attended Columbia University’s Teachers College and earned a master’s degree in nursing education in 1963. After graduating, she went on to teach operating room students at Letterman General Hospital.
In 1966, Johnson-Brown hoped to become part of the MUST (mobile unit, self-contained, transportable) 45th Surgical Hospital, which was being deployed to Vietnam. But instead, due to poor health, she went to Valley Forge General Hospital, Pennsylvania, later becoming the first nurse on staff of the Medical Research and Development Command. While working on her doctorate degree, Johnson-Brown became the director and assistant dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Nursing. From 1978 to 1979, Johnson-Brown served for a year as chief nurse of the 121st Evacuation Hospital in Seoul, Korea. In 1979, the Army nominated Johnson-Brown to become the 16th chief of the Army Nurse Corps with an accompanying promotion to brigadier general. She was the first African American woman and the first chief with an earned doctorate in the Department of Defense to achieve this rank. Johnson-Brown retired from the Army in 1983 as a brigadier general.
After leaving the Army, Johnson-Brown worked as administrative consultant and later as a director in the American Nurses Association office of governmental affairs. She also taught as a professor and as an assistant professor at the nursing schools of Georgetown University and George Mason University. During Operation Desert Storm in 1990, Johnson-Brown volunteered to work in the surgical suite at Fort Belvoir Army Hospital, Virginia.
Johnson-Brown passed away on Aug. 5, 2011, at age 84.
We honor her service.
Do you want to light up the face of a special Veteran? Have you been wondering how to tell your Veteran they are special to you? VA’s #VeteranOfTheDay social media feature is an opportunity to highlight your Veteran and his/her service.
It’s easy to nominate a Veteran. Visit our blog post about nominating to learn how to create the best submission.
Writer: Sarah Concepcion
Editors: Katherine Berman and Julia Pack
Fact checker: Crystal Moore
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill