Born October 10, 1927 in Malvern, Pennsylvania
First African American Woman Brigadier
General in the U.S. Army; professor.
Hazel Johnson-Brown made military history when she became the first African American woman general in 1979. She entered the U.S. Army in 1955, shortly after President Harry Truman banned segregation in the armed services. When she retired from the military in 1983, the list of credentials Johnson-Brown had accumulated was impressive. Some of the positions she held included project director at the U.S. Army Medical Research and Development Command in Washington, D.C.; dean of the Walter Reed Army Institute School of Nursing; and special assistant to the chief of the U.S. Army Medical Command in Korea. She reached the pinnacle of her military career when she was appointed Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, with the rank of Brigadier General.
Born in 1927 in Malvern, Pennsylvania and one of seven children, she was raised on her father’s farm in nearby West Chester. Inspired by a local white public heath nurse when she was 12, Johnson decided that she too would become a nurse. She applied to the West Chester School of Nursing, but was rejected because she was black. She did not, however, let this stand in her way. She left West Chester for New York City in 1947, and enrolled in the Harlem Hospital School of Nursing.
After graduating, she went to work at the Philadelphia Veteran’s Hospital in 1953. It was there that her colleagues noticed her natural leadership abilities, and suggested she join the Army. After one meeting with a recruiter, she enlisted for what she thought would be a two-year tour. Instead, she swiftly rose through the ranks, enjoying a remarkable military career that spanned almost three decades.
As the first African American appointed as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, Johnson commanded 7,000 male and female nurses in the Army National Guard and Army Reserves. She also set policy and oversaw operations in eight Army medical centers, fifty-six community hospitals and one hundred forty-three freestanding clinics in the United States, Japan, Korea, Germany, Italy, and Panama.
While in the army, she continued her formal education, earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Villanova University, a master’s degree in nursing education from Columbia University, and a Ph.D. in education administration from Catholic University. Two years before retiring from the army in 1983, she married David Brown.
Following her retirement, Johnson-Brown enjoyed a distinguished “second” career in academia. She served as professor of nursing at Georgetown University in Washington D.C., and finally at George Mason University in Virginia. At George Mason University, she was instrumental in founding the Center for Health Policy, designed to educate and involve nurses in health policy and policy design.
She retired from teaching in 1997. She continues to live in the Washington area, serving on a variety of university and health administration boards.