Navy Nurse Sara M. Cox

Today’s post is by Anna Csar, Expert Archives Technician at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and Chair of the Women’s Affinity Group for the National Archives and Records Administration

Sara M. Cox was an Army contract nurse during the Spanish-American War before joining the Army Nurse Corps in 1901, and then re-signing in 1902. Nurse Cox was one of the Navy Nurse Corps’ “Sacred Twenty,” the first twenty women to be appointed to the Navy Nurse Corps, established in 1908. She retired from the Navy Nurse Corps in 1928.

Image of the First Twenty Navy Nurses Appointed in 1908. Sara M. Cox is identified by the red oval.
First Twenty Navy Nurses Appointed in 1908. Sara M. Cox is identified by the red oval.

While preparing for my 2018 Virtual Genealogy Fair presentation I located the file for Nurse Cox in the Veterans Administration Master Index File (NAID 76193916). I am even cited for it on her Wikipedia page!

The VA Master Index Files were digitized in 2018 and are now available on

sara m cox VA index
Veterans Administration Index card for Sara M. Cox

The index provides crucial information and is often one of the best places to begin research on veterans of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Service Number listed for Nurse Cox is 4150 161, an enlisted number since Navy Nurses were not Permanent Officers until 1948. There is an enlisted Official Military Personnel File under that service number at the National Personnel Records Center at St. Louis, MO.

It is often assumed that women did not have any other Official Military Personnel Files, but this is where historians have been incorrect! One VERY crucial detail: Navy Nurse Corps nurses were actually given unofficial “Officer” service numbers from 1908-1919! The nurses were all assigned the same four digit prefix 8418, and then given a 1-4 digit suffix. There are microfilmed Navy Officer Service Number finding aids that list these numbers at the National Archives at St. Louis.

Nurse Sara M. Cox’s first service number was actually 8418-35.

8418- Service Numbers pg 1
Sara M. Cox, 0035

In 2018, the National Archives at St. Louis accessioned Record Group 52’s Navy Nurse Corps Professional Jackets. These “Pro Jackets” were the missing piece of the puzzle that historians never even knew existed! Within the Navy Pro Jackets, there may be documents cross-referencing the 8418 number, but more importantly these records are essentially the same as an Officer’s Official Military Personnel File to include Efficiency Reports, hand written letters, and even photographs! Nurse Cox’s Navy Pro Jacket is open to the public and will be able to fill in the gaps in her Wikipedia article.

To request Sara Cox’s military personnel records, please email or by mail to National Archives at St. Louis:
Attn: RL-SL
P.O. Box 38757
St. Louis, MO 63138

To learn more you can view Anna Csar’s presentation on YouTube: America’s Military Made the Call: Hello Nurses! from the National Archives 2018 Genealogy Fair.