March 8, 2016–Ann Bradford Stokes
Ann Bradford Stokes started her nursing career as “contraband”–a former slave now freed when Union Forces invaded the South.
She was taken aboard a naval vessel. She could not read or write, but began working as a nurse, all the same. She worked under the direction of the Sisters of the Holy Cross on the USS Red Rover, the first naval hospital ship. As such, Stokes was the first African American woman to serve on board a naval vessel and one of the first women to serve as nurses in the military. She helped serve over 3,000 wounded soldiers while on board.
Officially, Stokes enlisted in the navy in January of 1863 and served until October 1864. During her enlistment, she was paid regular wages for the first time in her life.
After leaving the Navy, she married Gilbert Stokes. In 1890 she applied for a disability pension and was certified by the Navy has having served for 18 months of active duty during the war. She is the first woman in the US to receive a pension for her own military service. She died in Illinois in 1903.