Women’s long history of commitment to the U.S. military

Editor’s Note: Information for this article was gathered from this source.

Military spouses know the importance of what they do to support their significant other, but did you know that women have been supporting the United States military since the Revolutionary War?

March is Women’s History Month, so I thought it would be fun to explore women’s role in the military. I hope you find it interesting. And if you know a woman who has made significant strides in the military cause, living or deceased, let me know to include her.

Liberty Bell, a symbol of the Revolutionary War

Women have served in the military since the Revolutionary War. Back then, women followed their soldiers into battle and served vital roles in helping boost morale, mend clothes, helping the wounded, cook, doing laundry, and cleaning cannons. Some women disguised themselves as men to get into the battle. Others took on the dangerous task of spying for the Continental Army. Whatever their role, these women were integral parts of the war effort.

Civil War flags

In the Civil War, almost 20,000 women helped by growing crops, cooking in Army camps, sewing, laundry, and organizing fundraising campaigns. During this time, women’s role as a nurse increased significantly, with 3,000 women serving as nurses for the Union Army. Again, many women disguised themselves as men to fight in the battles on both sides.

The United States established the official Army Nurse Corps in 1901. When World War I broke out, the ANC had 403 nurses, but more than 3,000 American nurses were working in British hospitals in France one year into the war.

However, WWI is also notable because it was the first time women – who did not yet have the right to vote – were allowed to openly serve in the U.S. military.

USO

Women also enlisted in the Navy to replace men sent overseas to fight and served as clerks, telephone and radio operators, and translators. The U.S. Army Signal Corps also enlisted women to work as telephone and switchboard operators. Many of these women worked very close to the front lines in France.

All branches of the U.S. military opened up the ranks to women during World War II with the Women’s Army Corps (WACS), the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, and the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS).

Women Airforce Service Pilots in World War II

Most of the jobs these women did were non-combat such as clerical work, driving vehicles, repairing airplanes, cryptology, radio and telephone operators, rigged parachutes, and test-flying airplanes. And, of course, nurses on the front lines.

Women were officially allowed to serve as permanent members of all branches of the U.S. in 1948 when President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. The act was an important step forward, but it had its limitations. Only 2 percent of each branch could be women, they were not allowed to command men or serve in combat, and if a woman became pregnant, it was an automatic discharge. Black women and men could serve equally in all branches after President Truman issued the Integration of the Armed Forces executive order a month after signing the act allowing women to serve. In 1950, 120,000 women served on active duty when the Korean War broke out.

President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948.

In 1967 during the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson promoted women to general, and in 1972, women were allowed to command units of men. In 1975, pregnancy was no longer an automatic discharge from the military.

Ann Dunwoody, first four-star general in the Army.

Since then, we’ve seen a lot of firsts for women. The first female Navy fighter pilot (Capt. Rosemary Mariner), the first female four-star general in the Army (Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody), the first female rescue swimmer in the Coast Guard (Chief Petty Officer Karen Voorhees), and the first female Silver Star medal recipient (Army Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester) since World War II during the Iraq War.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton allowed women to serve in all positions in the military except direct ground combat. But in 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta lifted the ban on combat roles allowing women to serve in all aspects of the military. As a result, women now make up 16 percent of the enlisted force across the branches and 18 percent of the officer corps.

Throughout the ages, women of the United States have proven to be a substantial force when it comes to protecting the Stars and Stripes.

Until next time,

Vicki

Send me the names and branches of women you know serving/served in the military and at the end of the month I will post a roll call of those names.

Victoria Terrinoni is the author of “Where You Go, I Will Go: Lessons From a Military Spouse,” available here or by clicking the Shop tab above. Watch for her new book on the Good Chaplain’s Africa deployment coming out in the fall!

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