Timeline of women in warfare in the United States from 1900 to 1949

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This is a timeline of women in warfare in the United States from 1900 until 1949.


  • 1901: The United States establishes the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent part of the Army. The Corps remains all-female until 1955.[1][2]
  • 1908: The United States establishes the Navy Nurse Corps on 13 May. The Corps remains all-female until 1965.[1][3] The first 20 nurses (the first women in the Navy) report to Washington, D.C. in October 1908. By the end of World War I, their numbers increase to 1,386. During the war, the nurses serve on transport duty overseas in England, Ireland, and Scotland.[4]


  • 1913: U.S. Navy nurses (all women) serve on the transports USS Mayflower and USS Dolphin.[4]

World War I[edit]

  • United States: During America's involvement from 1917–1918, 21,480 U.S. Army nurses (military nurses are all women) serve in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses serve at home, caring for German prisoners of war and African-American soldiers. The first female members of the military killed in the line of duty are Edith Ayres and Helen Wood, who die on May 20, 1917 at Base Hospital #12 aboard the USS Mongolia en route to France. The U.S. Army recruits and trains 233 female bilingual telephone operators to work at switchboards near the front in France, and sends 50 skilled stenographers to France to work with the Quartermaster Corps. On 19 March 1917, the U.S. Navy authorizes the enlistment of women. Designated as "Yeoman (F)," they unofficially become known as "Yeomanettes.” The U.S. Navy enlists 11,880 women as Yeomen (F), to serve in shore billets and release sailors for sea duty. On 21 March 1917, YNC Loretta Perfectus Walsh becomes the first female Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy. More than 1,476 U.S. Navy nurses serve in military hospitals. The U.S. Marine Corps enlists 305 female Marine Reservists (F) to "free men to fight" by filling positions (such as clerks and telephone operators) on the home front. In 1918, Pvt. Opha May Johnson becomes the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. More than 400 U.S. military nurses die in the line of duty during World War I, the vast majority from the pandemic Spanish Flu. In 1918, twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker of the Naval Coastal Defense Reserve become the first uniformed women to serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. At the time of the armistice on November 11, 1918 there are 11,275 Yeomanettes in naval service, with some 300 female Marines in the Marine Corps. The women, "no longer needed", are asked to resign. The final pass in review down Pennsylvania Avenue is in July.[1][4][5][6][7] The U.S. Naval Reserve Act of 1916 permits the enlistment of qualified "persons" for service. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels asks, "Is there any law that says a Yeoman must be a man?" and is told there is not.[4]


  • 1920: A provision of the Army Reorganization Act grants U.S. military nurses the status of officers, with "relative rank" from second lieutenant to major (but not full rights and privileges). U.S. Nurses (all women) serve aboard the first U.S. ship built as a floating hospital, the USS Relief (AH-1).[4]


  • 1938: The (U.S.) Naval Reserve Act permits the enlistment of qualified women as nurses.[4]


  • 1942: The Women's Reserve of the U. S. Coast Guard Reserve program (officially nicknamed the "SPARs"), was first established in 1942.[8]
  • 1942: YN3 Dorothy Tuttle became the first SPAR enlistee when she enlisted in the Coast Guard Women's Reserve on the 7th of December, 1942.[8]
  • 1942: The Marine Corps Women's Reserve (MCWR) was authorized by the U.S Congress in July 1942 to relieve male Marines for combat duty in World War II.[9]
  • 1942: U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Public Law 689 creating the Navy’s women reserve program on 30 July 1942.[10]
  • 1942: The U.S. Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was founded.[11]
  • 1942: The name of the U.S. Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) is officially changed to Women's Army Corps (WAC).[12]
  • 1943: The U.S. Women's Army Corps recruited a unit of Chinese-American women to serve with the Army Air Forces as "Air WACs." [13]
  • 1944: Public Law 238 granted full military rank to members of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps, who were then all women.[10]
  • 1945: The first five African-American women entered the Women's Reserve of the U. S. Coast Guard Reserve (SPARs): Olivia Hooker, D. Winifred Byrd, Julia Mosley, Yvonne Cumberbatch, and Aileen Cooke.[8]
  • 1945: SPAR Marjorie Bell Stewart was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal by CAPT Dorothy Stratton, becoming the first SPAR to receive the award.[8]
  • 1947: The SPARs was inactivated on 25 July 1947.[14]
  • 1947: Lotus Mort became the first female warrant officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
  • 1947: The Army-Navy Nurse Act of 1947 (Public Law 36-80C) made the Army Nurse Corps and Women's Medical Specialist Corps a permanent Staff Corps of the Regular Army and Navy and gave permanent commissioned officer status to Army and Navy nurses.[15][16]
  • 1948: On June 12, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 625, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to become permanent, regular members of the U.S. armed forces in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the recently formed Air Force. Prior to this act, women, with the exception of nurses, served in the military only in times of war. However, the act limited service of women by excluding them from Air Force and Navy vessels and aircraft that might engage in combat. On July 7, 1948, Kay Langdon, Wilma Marchal, Edna Young, Frances Devaney, Doris Robertson, and Ruth Flora became the first six enlisted women to be sworn into the regular U.S. Navy. Esther McGowin Blake was the first woman to enlist in the regular U.S. Air Force; she enlisted in the first minute of the first hour of the first day regular Air Force duty was authorized for women on July 8, 1948.[17] On October 15, 1948, the first eight women to be commissioned in the regular U.S. Navy, Joy Bright Hancock, Winifred Quick Collins, Ann King, Frances Willoughby, Ellen Ford, Doris Cranmore, Doris Defenderfer, and Betty Rae Tennant took their oaths as naval officers.[18]
    WAVES recruitment poster
  • 1948: The position Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women (ACNP(W)) was created from the original WAVES leadership position. This was the first notion of the Office of Women's Policy. The woman officer who held the position was an 0-6 for as long as she filled the billet. No flag rank was allowed per Title 10 USC 6015.[4]
  • 1948: On January 31, 1948, Mrs. Fannie Mae Salter, keeper of the Turkey Point Lighthouse in upper Chesapeake Bay since 1925 and the last female keeper of a lighthouse in the United States at the time, retired from active service. This ended nearly 150 years during which women were employed as keepers of United States' lighthouses.[14]
  • 1948: Colonel Katherine A. Towle became the first Director of Women [U.S.] Marines.[19] The first group of women were sworn into the regular U.S. Marine Corps.
  • 1949: The authority to reestablish the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves (SPARs), approved by the President on 4 August 1949, became effective on 1 November 1949.[14]
  • 1949: The U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps was established.[1]
  • 1949: The first African-American women enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Highlights in the History of Military Women". Women In Military Service For America Memorial. Archived from the original on June 22, 2013. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  2. ^ O'Lynn, Chad E.; Tranbarger, Russell E., eds. (2006). Men in Nursing: History, Challenges, and Opportunities. New York: Springer Publishing. p. 88. ISBN 9780826103499. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  3. ^ D'Amico, Francine; Weinstein, Laurie Lee, eds. (1999). Gender Camouflage: Women and the U.S. Military. New York: NYU Press. p. 23. ISBN 9780814719077. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "History & Firsts". Public.navy.mil. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  5. ^ "Resources—Historical Frequently Asked Questions". Women In Military Service For America Memorial. Archived from the original on June 22, 2013. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  6. ^ "Women's History Chronology". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  7. ^ "History of the Women Marines". Women Marines Association. Retrieved June 22, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Marine Corps Reserve Association - History of the Marine Corps Reserve". Usmcra.org. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  10. ^ a b "Milestones of Women in the US Navy". History.navy.mil. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  11. ^ "Women Army Corps | Women Auxiliary Army Corps". Army.mil. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  12. ^ "Women in the U.S. Army Timeline". Army.mil. Retrieved 2014-02-12. 
  13. ^ "Asian-Pacific-American Servicewomen in Defense of a Nation". Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation. Retrieved 2013-01-07. 
  14. ^ a b c "Women & the U. S. Coast Guard: Moments in History". United States Coast Guard. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Highlights in the History of Military Women". Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. Retrieved December 18, 2011. 
  16. ^ "History & Firsts". Public.navy.mil. Retrieved 2013-01-24. 
  17. ^ [2]
  18. ^ Ebbert, Jean; and Hall, Marie-Beth; Crossed Currents: Navy Women from WWI to Tailhook [Revised]: Brassey's; 1999.
  19. ^ "History of the Women Marines". Women Marines Association. Retrieved December 18, 2011.