Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dr. Margaret Craighill: First of Her Kind

Major Dr. Margaret D. Craighill
“Women have reached a situation where they should be judged by accomplishments and skill. Military medical care often stands perilously close to the crisis stage.”

So said Dr. Margaret D. Craighill, the first female physician to be commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. On April 16, 1943 President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the Sparkman-Johnson Bill which allowed women to enter the Army and Navy Medical Corps, and one month later Dr. Craighill became Major Craighill.

Born in Southport, North Carolina in 1898, Margaret was one of six girls. An intelligent woman, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Wisconsin and went on to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where she earned her Doctorate in 1924. She taught Pathology at Yale University and served as Assistant Resident of Gynecology for Hopkins. She then moved to New York City where she worked as an assistant surgeon at Bellevue Hospital and Greenwich Hospital until 1937. By 1940 she was Dean of the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and working for Philadelphia General Hospital.

Then came WWII.

Upon passage of the Sparkman-Johnson Bill, Dr. Craighill put in for a leave of absence in order to serve in the military and after her commission was assigned to the Office of the Surgeon General where she was responsible for setting medical standards for (women’s) enlistment, providing suitable care after enlistment, and recommending preventive measures for women’s health.

In current times, we take female doctors and the separate discipline of women’s health for granted. But it wasn’t until 1944 that Dr. Craighill was able to convince the powers-that-be there were “problems of health peculiar to women.” Up until that time, women enlistees were subjected to the same prescribed exam that men received. As a result, most women who should have been rejected because of fibroids, tumors, and even advanced pregnancy, were inducted.

Lt. Colonel Craighill and
Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby
By Dr. Craighill’s creation of standards that were specific to women, and educating the medical examiners at the induction stations, the rejection rate rose and the disability discharge rate plummeted. She personally conducted an inspection tour that lasted over eight months and spanned the globe. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, she was awarded the Legion of Merit.

After the war, she was honorable discharged, and she returned to private practice before accepting the position of Chief Consultant, Medical Care for Women, with the Veteran’s Administration-another first. Widowed twice, Dr. Craighill passed away in July, 1977.

A freelance writer for over ten years, Linda Shenton Matchett is the author of three romance novellas, including Love's Harvest, a modern retelling of the book of Ruth. Under Fire, the first in her trilogy about WWII War Correspondent/amateur sleuth Ruth Brown will be released by eLectio Publishing in July 2017. Visit Linda at www.LindaShentonMatchett.com.


  1. Dr. Margaret D. Craighill definitely made a difference in history. I was not aware of her contribution to the Army Medical Corps. Thank you for sharing, Linda. I read this yesterday but didn't post a comment then. : (

  2. I enjoyed learning about Dr. Craighill and her place in our history. I was especially impressed with the fact that until she intervened many women with serious health issues were being enlisted to serve in our military!