Florence Aby Blanchfield was born on April 1, 1884 in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She was the fourth of eight children to parents Mary Louvenia and Joseph Plunkett Blanchfield. She grew up in the town of Oranda, Virginia and graduated from Southside Hospital Training School in 1906. Subsequently Blanchfield studied at Johns Hopkins Hospital with one of the Hospital’s founding professors, Howard Atwood Kelly.
Blanchfield worked her way up the ladder in her medical career. She was an operating room supervisor in Pittsburgh, PA at Southside Hospital as well as Montefiore Hospital. In 1909, she was the superintendent at Belleveue, Pennsylvania’s Suburban General Hospital overseeing the training school. She also worked as an operating room nurse and anesthetist in the Panama Canal Zone for Ancon Hospital in 1913.
Florence Blanchfield’s military career began when she enlisted in the US Army Nurse Corps (ANC) during World War I. She served as acting chief nurse from August 1917-January 1919 in Angers and Coëtquidan, France. After leaving the military for a short period following the end of the war, she returned to active service and in 1935, she started work in the office of the superintendent, working closely on personnel matters within the ANC. She moved up the ranks from assistant superintendent to becoming the superintendent on June 1, 1943, a position she served in until September 1947.
Blanchfield became an integral part in having nurses earn full rank through the Army and Navy Nurse Corps Law that went into effect on April 16, 1947. That same year, she became the first woman in the regular army to receive a military commission. Among her accolades during her time in the Army, she received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945, the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1951 and the West Virginia Distinguished Service Medal in 1963.
On May 12, 1971, Colonel Blanchfield passed away at Walter Reed Army Hospital at age 87, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Her legacy lives on and the Col. Florence A. Blanchfield Army Community Hospital at Fort Campbell in Kentucky was named in her honor in 1982.
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