Opha May Johnson

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Opha May Johnson
Opha-Mae-Johnson-face.jpg
Opha May Johnson
Born 1879
Kokomo, Indiana
Died 11 August 1955(1955-08-11) (aged 76)
Washington DC
Place of burial Rock Creek Cemetery
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch  United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1918-1919
Rank Private
Unit Marine Corps Reserve

Opha May Johnson (née Jacob, May 1879 – 11 Aug 1955)[1] was the first woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. She joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1918, officially becoming the first female Marine.[2]

Early years[edit]

Johnson graduated from the shorthand and typewriting department of Wood's Commercial College in 1895.[3] As salutatorian for her class, she "entertained the audience with a carefully prepared paper."[4] Historical records identify she married Victor H. Johnson on 20 December 1898 at the Sixth Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC.[5] At the time of their marriage, Victor Johnson (1873 – 1950) was the musical director at the Lafayette Square Opera House.[6] Prior to joining the Marines, Mrs. Johnson was in the Civil Service,[7][8] working for the Interstate Commerce Commission.[9]

Military service[edit]

She became the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps on August 13, 1918, when she joined the Marine Corps Reserve during World War I.[7] Johnson, due to the good fortune of being first in line that day,[10] was the first of over 300 women to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve during World War I.

According to 1918 newspaper articles, as well as the published history of Women Marines in World War I, Johnson's first duties were as a clerk at Marine Corps headquarters, managing the records of other female reservists who joined after she did.[8][2][7][9]

On 11 July 1919, the American Legion granted a charter to the first post of women's Marine Corps reservists. Known as Belleau Wood Post No. 1, its membership consisted of 90 women who had worked at Headquarters Marine Corps.[11] Opha May Johnson was a charter member of this post.[12]

At the end of World War I the Marine Corps, like all services, began the steady disenrollment of women, including Mrs. Johnson, from active service.[2]

Opha Johnson (far right) in 1946

Biographical Controversies[edit]

Marine Corps historians have pointed out that errors concerning the first official female Marine have been circulated and published, the first of which concerns her middle name. Although many have identified the spelling of her middle name as Mae, her middle name is actually spelled May. That is the way she penned it in on the applicant line of a Marine Corps Reserve form. As an official document, her full middle name was required on the form, and thus documented for historical reference.[8]

The second fallacy typically published is her age when she enlisted. Although many report her birth year as 1900, placing her in her late teens at the time of her enlistment, historians cite her as being almost 40 when she enlisted. Various historical records and photographs verify that.[8][2]

A third, more recent error involves her official photograph. Another well known photograph of three female Marine PFCs (Mary Kelly, May O'Keefe, and Ruth Spike) in 1918, was cropped to show just the center figure and published correctly as being May O'Keefe. At a later date, that cropped picture was erroneously attributed as being Opha May Johnson and subsequently used by otherwise reliable sources.[13][10]

Later years[edit]

Opha May Johnson died on Thursday, 11 August 1955, at Mount Alto Veterans Hospital in Washington, D.C. Services were held at Warner E. Pumphrey Funeral Home on Saturday, 13 August 1955,[1] 37 years to the day from when she stood first in the line of women answering the call to become a U.S. Marine. Her grave is currently unmarked.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b "Opha May Jacob Johnson". http://www.findagrave.com/. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Hewitt, Linda J. (1974). [[1] Women Marines In World War I (1974)]. United States Marine Corps History and Museums Division. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  3. ^ "Local Mention". Evening Star (Washington D.C.). 4 June 1895. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  4. ^ "Business Careers Opening". The Washington Times (Washington D.C.). 5 June 1895. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  5. ^ "The Social World". Evening Star (Washington D.C.). 24 December 1898. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  6. ^ "Amusements". Evening Star (Washington D.C.). 28 August 1895. Retrieved 6 January 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c "Girl Joins Devil Dogs". Evening Star (Washington D.C.). 14 August 1918. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  8. ^ a b c d Ellis, Samuel (25 August 2013). "First female Marine, Opha May Johnson’s, 95-year legacy". http://www.quanticosentryonline.com/. Quantico Sentry, BH Media Group Holdings, Inc. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  9. ^ a b "Women Marines anxious to serve United States". Richmond Times Dispatch. 1 September 1918. p. 2. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  10. ^ a b Soper, Susan. "Opha Mae Johnson: Semper Fi". Legacy.com. Retrieved 31 December 2014. 
  11. ^ "Girls in Washington were first in Legion". The Recruiters Bulletin (United States Marine Corps) 8 (5): 18. September 1919. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  12. ^ "Marinettes here form Legion Post". Evening Star (Washington D.C.). 12 June 1919. Retrieved 2 January 2015. 
  13. ^ File:OphaMaeJohnson.jpg