Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Artifacts of the Month: Captain Ruth Moeller, MSC, USN

By Joseph Judge
Hampton Roads Naval Museum Curator

In honor of women’s history month the artifacts of the month are personal items from Captain Ruth Moeller, USN.  Capt. Moeller was an educator and administrator who served the Navy for three decades as “an officer and a lady.”
Items on display this month include uniform items that once belonged to Capt. Moeller such as the Navy Tiara (upper left) as well as commemorative coins and personal decorations.  (Photograph by Marta Nelson-Joiner)
Capt. Moeller's personal decorations included the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the National Defense Service Medal (two awards).(Photograph by Marta Nelson-Joiner)



USS Solace (AH-5) in 1943. Solace, the second Navy hospital ship to carry that name, was built in 1927 as the passenger ship SS Iroquois by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Newport News, Va. The liner was converted into a hospital ship at the Atlantic Basin Iron Works, Brooklyn, N.Y. In March 1942, Solace was ordered to the South Pacific and in the ensuing months shuttled between New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia, Espiritu Santo, the New Hebrides, and the Fiji Islands, caring for fleet casualties and servicemen wounded in the island campaigns. (Official U.S. Navy Photo)
Capt. Moeller was born in 1916 in Nebraska.  In 1939 she was appointed a reserve officer in the Navy Nurse Corps and was called to active duty in March 31, 1942.  The young nurse shipped to the South Pacific aboard the hospital ship USS Solace (AH-5).  During World War II, she also was stationed at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, VA. 
The seal of the Navy Nurse Corps from Capt. Moeller's collection. (Photograph by Marta Nelson-Joiner)
In 1947, after further studies at the Medical College of Virginia and other places, she transferred from the Nurse Corps to the Medical Service Corps.  Congress established the Medical Service Corps as a staff Corps of the Navy engaged in medical support work.  Part of the Corps was the Women’s Specialist Section.


In 1957, she was assigned to the Naval Medical School, Bethesda, as officer in charge of the Physical Therapy Technicians School.  She also assumed additional duty as Assistant to the Director, Medical Service Corps for Women Specialist Officers.

It was under the leadership of Captain Moeller, who had become the Assistant for the Women’s Specialist Section in 1962, that the Navy eliminated the word “Women’s’’ from the section’s title thereby making it the “Medical Specialist Section.” In 1965, men actually joined the section.


President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Public Law 90-130. Captain Ruth Moeller is standing third from the left.  The Nov. 8, 1967, event opened promotions for women to general and flag ranks, lifted ceilings on other ranks and removed the two-percent ceiling on the number of women allowed on active duty. (Courtesy Women's Memorial)

In 1967, Capt. Moeller was one of the women standing beside President Lyndon Johnson when he signed the law opening general and flag ranks to women. The law also removed the 2% ceiling on the number of women in each service branch.

Capt. Moeller retired on September 1, 1969 as an admired clinician and mentor to junior officers and enlisted corpsmen alike. She passed away in 2014 at 98 years of age, and in accordance with her wishes was buried at sea.

1 comment:

Patricia Evans said...

I had the privilege of serving as a Physical Therapist in the Medical Service Corps under the leadership of Captain Ruth Moeller, MSC, USN from 1966 until her retirement in 1969. The gift of her leadership and her precept and example of what a Naval Officer should be will forever be ingrained in my memory. After leaving the Naval Service, I lost contact with Captain Moeller for nearly 20 years. Because of the efforts of Captain Jean Health, MSC, USN (Retired)I was able to reconnect with Captain Moeller in 1990 and had the joy and honor of her friendship until she passed. When I completed my doctoral studies I dedicated my dissertation to Captain Moeller as it dealt with the professionalization of physical therapy in the United States. She was always my role model. In 1914 I shared my Navy Memories Book with Captain Moeller, which included every official communication I received from her during my years of service. Those of us who knew Captain Moeller are far better for having the gift of her leadership and friendship. She had a dream and a vision what the Medical Service Corps could be and she worked diligently to make it a reality. Thank you to the greatest officer and lady I have ever known.