It wasn’t until 1948 that women were made a permanent part of the military, and that was by way of law. The history of women in the U.S. armed forces is long, storied, and complex. Here’s a glimpse at some of the stories of women in the U.S. military:
One of the first recorded examples of a woman participating in U.S. armed forces activities dates all the way back to the Revolutionary War. The nickname “Molly Pitcher” is generally recognized for women who participated in battle in the Revolutionary War. One of these women was Mary Ludwig Hays, who swabbed and loaded a cannon for her husband after he collapsed and was unable to go on fighting.
During the Civil War, Union soldiers discovered the body of a woman wearing a Confederate private’s uniform after the Battle at Gettysburg. It’s estimated that somewhere between 400 and 750 women served in the Civil War. These women often served dressed as men, which was easy to accomplish because many who fought were “citizen soldiers” and didn’t have formal military training. Coupled with the Victorian sentiments which drove most soldiers to sleep clothed, simply wearing loose clothing was often enough to go unnoticed. While women were often discovered after being wounded, some were not. Sarah Rosetta Wakeman, whose enlisted name was “Private Lyons Wakeman”, served for two years and was never discovered, even after falling ill and dying. She is buried under her assumed name and her identity was only discovered in 1976.
It would be decades before a woman would formally enlist in the military as a woman. That woman was Loretta Walsh and she enlisted in 1917. However, Congress established the Army and Navy Nurse Corps. in 1901 and 1908 respectively, which provided women a formal opportunity to be of service, though not participate in combat.
During WWII is when women were able to begin to truly transcend standard roles and participate further in the U.S. military. Approximately 400,000 women served during World War II, though they were still not allowed to participate in combat roles. Instead, women continued to serve as nurses as well as ambulance drivers and clerks. In addition, some women were enlisted as non-combat pilots, mechanics and field intelligence agents.
In 1948, change was formally enacted when Congress passed the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act. The act permitted women to serve as members of the military permanently, as opposed to only during times of war, as had been customary prior to the act’s passage.
In the more than 70 years since the passage of the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act, progress has been slow, but steady. It wasn’t until 2016 that the Department of Defense opened all combat jobs to women. That same year, the first female service member joined the Army’s elite 75th Ranger Regiment. What’s next for women serving in the U.S. armed forces?
Posted on February 24 2020 in Blog