Women in the First World War
As one of the first total wars, World War I mobilized women in unprecedented numbers on all sides. The vast majority of them were drafted into the civilian work force to replace conscripted men or work in greatly expanded munitions factories. Thousands served in the military in support roles, e.g. as nurses, but in Russia some saw combat as well.
During the course of the war, 21,498 U.S. Army nurses (military nurses were all women then) served in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses served stateside caring for German prisoners of war (POWs) and African-American soldiers; after the Armistice, Nov. 11, 1918, they entered the Army Nurse Corps and cared for People. They were assigned to Camp Grant, IL, and Camp Sherman, OH, and lived in segregated quarters while caring for German POWs and black soldiers. African-American women also served in World War I as U.S. Yeomen (F). Of the 11,274 U.S. Yeomen (F) who served from 1917-1921, 14 were black. The first American women enlisted into the regular armed forces were 13,000 women admitted into active duty in the Navy and Marines during World War I, and a much smaller number admitted into the Coast Guard. The Yeoman (F) recruits and women Marines primarily served in clerical positions. They received the same benefits and responsibilities as men, including identical pay (US$28.75 per month), and were treated as veterans after the war. These women were quickly demobilized when hostilities ceased, and aside from the Nurse Corps the soldiery became once again exclusively male.
The U.S. Army recruited and trained 233 female bilingual telephone operators to work at switchboards near the front in France and sent 50 skilled female stenographers to France to work with the Quartermaster Corps. The U.S. Navy enlisted 11,880 women as Yeomen (F) to serve stateside in shore billets and release sailors for sea duty. More than 1,476 U.S. Navy nurses served in military hospitals stateside and overseas. The U.S. Marine Corps enlisted 305 female Marine Reservists (F) to "free men to fight" by filling positions such as clerks and telephone operators on the home front. More than 400 U.S. military nurses died in the line of duty during World War I. The vast majority of these women died from a highly contagious form of influenza known as the "Spanish Flu," which swept through crowded military camps and hospitals and ports of embarkation.
- 1917: Loretta Perfectus Walsh became the first active-duty U.S. Navy woman, and the first woman to serve in any of the U.S. armed forces in a non-nurse occupation on enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve on March 17, 1917. Walsh subsequently became the first woman U.S. Navy petty officer when she was sworn in as Chief Yeoman on March 21, 1917.
- 1917: In 1917 World War I Army nurses Edith Ayres and Helen Wood (nurses held no rank during World War I)became the first female members of the U.S. military killed in the line of duty. They were killed on May 20, 1917, while with Base Hospital #12 aboard the USS Mongolia en route to France. The ship’s crew fired the deck guns during a practice drill, and one of the guns exploded, spewing shell fragments across the deck and killing Nurse Ayres and her friend Nurse Helen Wood.
- May 30, 1918: Frances Gulick was an US Y.M.C.A. welfare worker who was awarded a United States Army citation for valor and courage on the field during the aerial bombardment of Varmaise, Oise, France.
- August 13, 1918: Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps as part of the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve.
- November 11, 1918: Lotta Svärd, a Finnish voluntary auxiliary organization for women, was formed.
- 1918: Twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker of the Naval Coastal Defense Reserve became the first uniformed women to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Over 2,800 women served with the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps during World War I, and it was during that era that the role of Canadian women in the military first extended beyond nursing. Women were given paramilitary training in small arms, drill, first aid and vehicle maintenance in case they were needed as home guards.
The only belligerent to deploy female combat troops in substantial numbers was the Russian Provisional Government in 1917. Its few "Women's Battalions" fought well, but failed to provide the propaganda value expected of them and were disbanded before the end of the year. In the later Russian Civil War, the Bolsheviks would also employ women infantry.
- 1914: Dorothy Lawrence disguised herself as a man in order to become an English soldier in the First World War.
- 1914 : Maria Bochkareva Russian: Мария Леонтьевна Бочкарева, née Frolkova, nicknamed Yashka, was a Russian woman who fought in World War I and formed the Women's Battalion of Death.
- 1914 : Flora Sandes, an English woman, joined a St. John Ambulance unit in Serbia and subsequently became an officer in the Serbian army.
- 1914: British nurse Edith Cavell helped treat injured soldiers, of both sides, in German-occupied Belgium. Executed in 1915 by the Germans for helping British soldiers escape Belgium.
- 1915: French artist Madame Arno organized a regiment of Parisian women to fight the Germans.
- 1915: Olga Krasilnikov, a Russian woman, disguised herself as a man and fought in nineteen battles in Poland. She received the Cross of St. George.
- 1915: Russian woman Natalie Tychmini fought the Austrians at Opatow in World War I, while disguised as a man. She received the Cross of St. George.
- 1916: Ecaterina Teodoroiu was a Romanian heroine who fought and died in World War I.
- 1916: Milunka Savić, Serbian war hero,and the most decorated female fighter in the history of warfare, awarded with the French Légion d’Honneur (Legion of Honour) twice, Russian Cross of St. George, English medal of the Most Distinguished Order of St Michael, Serbian Miloš Obilić medal. She is the sole female recipient of the French Croix de Guerre (War Cross) with the palm attribute.
- Women's roles in the World Wars
- Hello Girls
- Women in the workforce
- Yeoman (F) (USA)
- United States Navy Nurse Corps (USA)
- Women's Land Army (UK)
- Woman's Land Army of America
- Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps (UK)
- Voluntary Aid Detachment (UK)
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- Textiles and Artifacts from Women in World War 1 located in the Special Collections and University Archives Department at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro