Della Hayden Raney Jackson was born in Suffolk, Virginia on January 10, 1912, the 4th of twelve children born to George H and Willie V. Raney.
Jackson attended nursing school in North Carolina where she graduated from Durham’s Lincoln Hospital School of Nursing in 1937. After graduating she worked as the operating room supervisor at Lincoln Hospital.
At the start of World War II, Jackson applied to serve in the Army Nurse Corps. Her application was initially rejected because of race. Up until 1941, the Army only employed white nurses. Although her application was rejected, Jackson persisted in her efforts to become an Army nurse. At that time, a nurse needed the endorsement of the American Red Cross to be considered for the military.
Jackson wrote a letter to Mary Beard, who at the time was director of nursing for the American Red Cross, telling of her desire to serve the country while practicing her profession. When Jackson received a reply from Beard, she also received her membership card, certificate, and pin.
In April 1941, Jackson became the first black nurse accepted into the United States Army Nurse Corps, at the rank of 2nd Lieutenant.
Due to the wartime emergency, in January 1941, the Army opened its Nurse Corps to African American nurses but established a limit of 56 nurses. African American nurses were only allowed to care for African American servicemen.
Jackson served six months at Fort Bragg before taking the chief nursing exam. She passed and was promoted to First Lieutenant. In March of 1942, 1st Lieutenant Jackson led the first five black nurses assigned to the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, home of the Tuskegee Air Men. Jackson also became the first black ever appointed as a Chief Nurse in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps.
In 1945, Raney was promoted to Captain and later promoted again in 1946, to the rank of Major. She served an extensive tour of duty with the occupation force in Japan. When she returned to the United States, she returned to Camp Beale, as Director of Nursing for the base hospital. Major Raney retired in 1978 after earning the highest rank of any African-American nurse who served in World War II.