When did women begin serving in the US Armed
Women have served as volunteers with the
US Armed Forces throughout American history on an unofficial, temporary
or as-needed basis as soldiers and spies (sometimes disguised as
men), as support personnel who fed and cared for the troops and
as nurses. They were called to serve with each national crisis,
and then sent back to civilian life after each war.
||An AT&T Hello Girl at
the switchboard in Europe during World War I.
Finally in the aftermath of the Spanish-American
War, the nation recognized the need for the on-going presence of
women military nurses. The formation of the Army Nurse Corps in
1901 and the Navy Nurse Corps in 1908 created the first truly military
The first women who enlisted in the United
States military joined the Navy and Marine Corps in World War I.
Over 12,000 of them served stateside and over 200 Hello Girls,
bilingual women telephone operators recruited by AT&T, served
overseas with the US Army Signal Corps. Thousands of Army and Navy
nurses, and volunteers in the American Red Cross, the YMCA, YWCA,
Salvation Army and American Women's Hospitals worked at home and
abroad. But at war's end, they were discharged.
||Recruiting poster for the
WAC during World War II. The WACs adopted the helmeted goddess,
Minerva, as their symbol, shown here on the medallion in the
lower right corner.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor
on December 7, 1941, women were again mobilized in new women's military
components for the national defense. Massive publicity campaigns
urged women to join the armed forces and Free a Man to Fight,
and more than 400,000 women volunteered. They served stateside and
overseas in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and as members
of the civilian Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Eighty-seven
female military nurses were prisoners-of-war. But yet again, at
war's end, most women were demobilized.
Women did not receive permanent military
status in the regular and reserve forces of the Army, Navy, Marine
Corps and then-newly created Air Force until 1948 when President
Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.
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How many women have served in the American
Statistics on the numbers of women in the
military are incomplete. Definitive figures for the early years
of the American Revolution and the Civil War are difficult to determine,
and recordkeeping is tentative for eras as recent as the Vietnam
War. Currently, about 350,000 women comprise almost 15 percent of
the active duty, reserve and guard units of the US Armed Forces.
Approximate numbers of women serving at specific times are listed
below. Source for these figures vary from the Department of Defense
to footnoted statistics in pre-eminent publications.
|World War I
21,480 in the Army Nurse Corps; 2,000 in
the Navy Nurse Corps, 12,000 Yeomen(F), 305 Women Marines
and 200 in the Army Signal Corps
|World War II era
|Korean War era
265,000. The 7,500 women deployed in theater
included 36 women Marines, 421 women in the Navy, and 771
in the Air Force. The remainder were in the Army. Army, Navy
and Air Force nurses accounted for 80 percent of the total.
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Do you have casualty figures for military women?
The casualty figures below are not definitive.
Research is ongoing at the Historian's Office. These figures represent
the best of our knowledge to date and include deaths from all causes:
hostile fire, illness as a result of military service, and accidents
that occurred in the line of duty during times of war. We do not have
statistics for earlier wars, because women were not yet serving officially
in the Armed Forces.
||The day before helicopter
pilot Maj. Marie Rossi and her three crew members were killed
in 1991, Rossi had told CNN, ...this is the moment that
everybody trains forthat I've trained forso I feel
ready to meet the challenge.
War: Twenty one contract nurses died from diseases such
as typhoid, and malaria.
I: 430 casualties. Many of these were Army and Navy Nurses
who died from influenza an epidemic swept through military
ports and bases in the U.S. and Europe. Two women (Army nurses stationed
in Europe) were wounded by hostile fire, but did not die.
World War II: 460 casuaties.
Six Army nurses died from hostile fire at Anzio Beachhead, 1944.
Six Army nurses died when a Japanese suicide plane crashed into
the Hospital Ship, USS Comfort near the Philippine Islands
in 1945. Less than twenty others died from hostile fire in isolated
incidents in North Africa, Europe, and the Southwest Pacific Area
during WWII. The majority of women died from weather-related plane
crashes, motor vehicle accidents, other work-related accidents,
and disease. Included in this figure are 38 WASP (Women Airforce
Service Pilot) deaths from weather related accidents, mechanical
failures, and pilot training errors.
Sixteen Army, Navy and Air Force Nurses in theater or enroute to
the battle theater other servicewomen were not permitted
in theater. None died directly from hostile fire. Army Nurse Genevieve
Smiths aircraft crashed en route to Korea early in the war.
One Navy Nurse died when a U.S. Navy Hospital Ship was accidentally
rammed by a freighter off the California coast. Eleven Navy Nurses
died when their plane crashed off Kwajalein Island enroute to Japan.
Captain Vera Brown, Air Force Nurse died when the plane she was
assigned to crashed during a medical evacuation flight. Two other
Air Force nurses also died in air crashes.
nurses in theater or enroute to theater. One Army Nurse, Lt. Sharon
Lane, died from hostile fire.
Desert Storm: Sixteen in theater or
enroute to theater. Three Army women died with 25 men when a scud
missile landed on a military barrack in Dhahran, and one woman died
in an antipersonnel mine explosion, and another died when the aircraft
she was in was shot down. Helicopter pilot Marie Rossi died after
her helicopter hit a microwave tower.
USS Cole: Two
enlisted women died on the USS Cole when terrorists attacked the
ship on October 12, 2000.
September 11, 2001: Eight military women
died on duty when terrorists attacked the Pentagon.
War on Terror:
One woman Marine, a radio operator, was killed when the helicopter
to which she was assigned crashed January 9, 2002 in the mountains
of southwest Pakistan. This incident was not designated attributable
to "Hostile Fire."
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Who were the first women generals and admirals?
||General Elizabeth Hoisington
and General Anna Mae Hays at the time of their promotions to
On November 8, 1967, President Lyndon Baines
Johnson signed Public Law 90-130 removing legal restrictions on
women's promotions that had kept them out of the general and flag
ranks. There is no reason why we should not some day have
a female Chief of Staff or even a female Commander-in-Chief,
President Johnson declared. Although the law removed ceilings on
women's promotions, it did not require that the military award them.
Three years passed before the Army promoted
the first women to brigadier general on June 11, 1970Anna
Mae Hays, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, and Elizabeth P. Hoisington,
Women's Army Corps Director.
In 1971, The Air Force promoted Jeanne M.
Holm, Director of Women in the Air Force (WAF) to brigadier general
and in 1972, Alene B. Duerk, Director of the Navy Nurse Corps, became
the first female admiral. Seven years later, Hazel W. Johnson of
the Army Nurse Corps became the first African-American woman general
in the United States military. The Marines waited until 1978 to
name Margaret Brewer as their first brigadier general.
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