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Lenah Higbee - one of the 'Sacred 20'

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Some people have buildings named after them, others streets and memorials. Not Lenah Higbee.

lenah higbee

Lenah Higbee

Her namesake was a 300,000 tonnes battleship that paid tribute to an extraordinary woman and nurse who won the Navy Cross, one of the highest medals of valour in the US Navy.

Lenah was one of the original ‘Sacred 20’: the first group of women to join the newly formed navy nurses corp in 1908 at the insistence of President Theodore Roosevelt. The nurses - unlike their modern-day counterparts - held no military rank and were widely resented in the male ranks of the navy.

Lenah served through World War One where her greatest adversary came in the shape of the Spanish flu pandemic which killed an estimated 50 million people. More than 120,000 navy and marine corp patients were treated for Spanish flu and Higbee came face-to-face with her enemy everyday as chief nurse.

Two years later she was the only one of four nurses who survived to collect her medal for ‘unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the Navy Nursing Corps’.

She died in 1922 and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.

The USS Higbee was named in her honour and was the first combat ship to bear the name of a female member of the naval service. The ship won eight battle stars proving as resilient and determined as its namesake.

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