Women in the Military
Celebrating Women in the Military!
It is no secret that women have found ways to serve their countries and communities, despite the inequality many face even now. Today we celebrate the heroism of our women who serve in the U.S. military.
As many of you are aware, women were not always permitted to enlist in the military. And those who were given the opportunity to serve had limited privileges simply because they were women. Decades later, women have fought their way to join forces with men in serving their nation. Many have received support, while far too many have faced discrimination and harassment. But that did not stop them from serving and fighting for their rights as women.
To show a token of gratitude for those women, we celebrate their bravery by shedding light on the history of our women in the U.S. military.
Women in the Military
Since the Revolutionary War and beyond, women have made a place for themselves while serving their country. Here are some of the roles women fulfilled while in war.
The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)
The wives, daughters, and mothers of many men traveled alongside soldiers. As soldiers went out to battle, it was the women who were hunting for and cooking their food, tending to their wounds, mending and washing their clothes, cleaning cannons, and, of course, offering encouragement.
It is also critical to note the bravery of women who disguised themselves as men to fight in the war. Margaret Corbin, Deborah Sampson, and Lydia Darragh are among the many women who disguised themselves as men to fight on the front lines.
The American Civil War (1861–1865)
During the Civil War, women grew crops, organized door-to-door fundraising campaigns, and served as nurses on a much larger scale. Some nurses were permitted to travel on the battlefield to aid men. This included Clara Barton, the founder of the US branch of the Red Cross.
World War I (1914–1918)
The US Army Nurse Corps was established prior to World War I in 1901. Over 3,000 American nurses were deployed to British hospitals in France. This was the first time women were permitted to openly serve in the military. And since numerous men were deployed overseas, the US Navy and Armed Forces were in desperate need of fulfilling the empty roles that were left. Nearly 12,000 women filled these positions, serving as telephone, radio, and switchboard operators and translators, as well as office administrators.
World War II (1939–1945)
During World War II, more than 16 million Americans went to serve on the front lines, leaving many positions left open to be filled. As such, all US military branches enlisted women in their ranks to fill non-combat positions. During this time, Rosie the Riveter, an allegorical culture icon became a symbol for women. Rosie the Riveter represented “American feminism and women’s economic advantage” as women took on these non-combat roles. They continued to fill previous positions worked in prior wars, and they also drove vehicles, cleaned and repaired airplanes, rigged parachutes, trained men in air combat tactics, tested and flew planes, worked in laboratories and cryptology, and more.
It is important to note that these roles did not come without risk. Over 400 women were killed while serving, and over 80 women were taken captive and held as prisoners.
Korean War (1950–1953)
The Korean War was a turning point for women in the military. President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. This allowed women to enlist and serve as permanent members of all military branches, but it came with restrictions. The act restricted the number of women who could serve in each branch to 2%, it limited how many women could serve as officers, they were not permitted to command men, serve in combat positions, and would be discharged if became pregnant. Not too long after the act was passed, President Truman signed the Integration of the Armed Forces executive order, allowing Black women to serve equally in all military branches.
One hundred and twenty thousand women served during the Korean War. Their roles included military police officers and engineers. And, of course, women continued serving as nurses and everything else in between. Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals (MASH), fully functional hospitals stationed in combat zones, were used during this time as well.
Vietnam War (1955–1975)
During the Vietnam War, women served the usual roles. Ninety percent of them were nurses, while some took on new roles as traffic controllers, intelligence officers, and clerks. Women were also promoted to general and flag ranks. They were also permitted to command their male counterparts. Two years after the Vietnam War, the Pentagon declared that pregnant women could remain in the military.
Gulf War (1990-1991)
More than 40,000 women deployed to combat zones, although they still could not technically serve in direct combat roles or assignments.
The War in Afghanistan (2001–2021)
During the almost 20 year war in Afghanistan, more than 300,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11/01, and more than 9,000 have earned Combat Action Badges. Today, women make up 16% of our nation’s Armed Forces, serving in every branch of the U.S. military.
Women in the military have taken many strides to get where they are today, despite gender and racial barriers. Here are a few honorary firsts worth mentioning.
- Rosemary Mariner was the first woman to receive her pilot wings in 1974
- Lieutenant General Stayce D. Harris was the first Black female three-star general.
- Major Della H. Raney was the first Black chief nurse commissioned as a lieutenant in the Army Nurse Corps.
- General Ann E. Dunwoody was the first woman to serve as a four-star general in the Army and the US Armed Forces.
- Chief Petty Officer Karen Voorhees was the first female rescue swimmer to be promoted to chief petty officer
- Loretta Walsh was the first woman to officially enlist in the Naval Reserve
- Army Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester was the first woman awarded the Silver Star in 2005 since World War II.
- In 2005, the first all-female C-130 Hercules crew served a combat mission for the U.S. Air Force. The crew: Lt. Col. Carol Mitchell, 1st Lt. Siobhan Couturier, pilot; Capt. Anita T. Mack, navigator; Staff Sgt. Josie E. Harshe, flight engineer; and loadmasters Tech. Sgt. Sigrid M. Carrero-Perez and Senior Airman Ci Ci Alonzo.
- In 2013, U.S. Secretary Leon Panetta announced that the restrictions placed on women in combat were officially lifted. Women can now serve in ground combat roles.
Women in Ukraine
Women continue to make history, and that is why National Women’s Month is so important to recognize and celebrate. Although we have shed some light on American women and their duly noted efforts, today is even more special with it being International Women’s Day!
As such, we want to take this time to recognize what is happening today in Ukraine and celebrate the women standing up and fighting. Here are a couple of honorable mentions of the women of Ukraine and more resources.
Born February 6, 1978, Olena Zelenska is the First Lady of Ukraine. She is a screenwriter and has studied architecture at the Faculty of Civil Engineering at Kryvyi Rih National University. Zelenska is fierce and brave as she stands with her husband, refusing America’s asylum invitation, to lead her people.
Not only is Valentyna Konstantynovska a mother, grandmother, and great-grandma, but she is a courageous woman ready to defend her people. Konstantynovska, 79 years old, enlisted in Ukraine’s military and was recently taught how to use an AK-47 assault rifle by the country’s national guard. She shows strength and power as she sets out to defend her country.
Here are more resources of women who are fighting for Ukraine:
Women serving as Fighters in Ukraine…17% of the army is women
Here are additional resources of women who are fighting for the US: