General Hazel Johnson-Brown was the first Black woman named general in the United States Army and the first chief of the Army Corps of Nurses, both in 1979. General Johnson-Brown’s pathway to military life came after she was denied a chance to chase a dream of becoming a nurse.
Johnson-Brown was born October 10, 1927 in West Chester, Pennsylvania. As a young girl, she had hopes of becoming a nurse. But when she attempted to attend a local nursing school she was turned her away due to her race. Johnson-Brown entered the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing and graduated in 1950, swiftly rising to the position of head nurse of the Philadelphia Veteran’s Administration Hospital.
As nurse, Johnson-Brown was so committed to the job that she was named to her supervisory post, which angered a white co-worker who felt she didn’t deserve the position. Johnson-Brown explained in a video that she told her white detractor that she didn’t name herself as head nurse but was given the title due to hard work. The woman quit.
With the blessing of her superiors, Johnson-Brown brown joined the U.S. Army in 1955 just as the military was being desegregated. Just as she did a nurse, Johnson-Brown took on the challenge without fear.
In 1959, Johnson-Brown earned a nursing degree from Villanova University and a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1963. In 1978, Johnson-Brown earned her doctorate in educational administration in 1978 from Catholic University.
The year after earning the doctorate, Johnson-Brown obtained her general ranking and chief position of the Army’s nursing corps. Prior to that, Johnson-Brown served as the assistant dean of the University of Maryland School of Nursing. She earned a reputation as a tough administrator retiring in 1983 with the respect of her peers.
General Johnson-Brown passed in 2011.
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