Women in the United States Army

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Ann Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in the United States Army in 2008.

There have been women in the United States Army since the Revolutionary War, and women continue to serve in it today. As of fiscal year 2014, women are approximately 14 percent of the active duty Army, 23 percent of the Army Reserve, and 16 percent of the Army National Guard.[1]


Pre-World War I[edit]

A few women fought in the Army in the American Revolutionary War while disguised as men.[2] Deborah Sampson fought until her sex was discovered and she was discharged, and Sally St. Clare died in the war.[2][3] Anna Maria Lane joined her husband in the Army, and by the time of the Battle of Germantown, she was wearing men's clothes.[2] According to the Virginia General Assembly, "in the revolutionary war, in the garb, and with the courage of a soldier, [Lane] performed extraordinary military services, and received a severe wound at the battle of Germantown."[2]

The number of women soldiers in the American Civil War is estimated at between 400 and 750, although an accurate count is impossible because the women again had to disguise themselves as men.[4]

Famed abolitionist Harriet Tubman served as a scout for the Union, later commanding Union troops at the Raid on Combahee Ferry.

The United States established the Army Nurse Corps as a permanent part of the Army in 1901; the Corps was all-female until 1955.[5][6]

World War I[edit]

Approximately 21,000 women served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War I.[7] In 1917 World War I Army nurses Edith Ayres and Helen Wood 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.[8]

World War II and after until the Korean War[edit]

US Army nurses line the rail of their vessel as it pulls into Greenock, Scotland in August 1944

The Army established the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, which was changed to the Women's Army Corps in 1943.[5] Over 150,000 women served as WACs during World War II.[5]

In January 1943, Captain Frances Keegan Marquis became the first to command a women's expeditionary force,[9] the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company.[10] Serving in General Eisenhower's North African headquarters in Algiers, this group of about 200 women performed secretarial, driving, postal, and other non-combat duties.[11]

In May 1943 Dr. Margaret Craighill became the first female doctor to become a commissioned officer in the Army Medical Corps;[12] she was assigned as the Women’s Consultant to the Surgeon General of United States Army commanding the Women’s Health and Welfare Unit and liaison duty with the WAC. During her military service, she was responsible for inspection of the field conditions for all women in the United States Army. This included providing medical care after enlistment, and recommending hygiene courses and other preventative measures, as well as establishing the standards for screening applicants into the WACs and for WAC medical care.[13] She also met with a board of army doctors to create set standards of acceptability, and these were shortly published.[13] Craighill was also responsible for advising the assignment of women medical officers. She recommended that women be assigned positions that were based on their professional qualifications rather than on their gender.[14]

The United States Army Surgeon General's office issued a circular in 1941 that for the first time classified "homosexual proclivities" as disqualifying inductees from military service; the WAC adopted a similar policy in 1944.[15] The WAC instituted strict screening policies for recruits, often based on physical appearance and gender conformity, in order to exclude lesbians from service. WAC policies also condoned heterosexual relationships with servicemen in order to discourage homosexual conduct.[16] (But see Johnnie Phelps below.)

The Angels of Bataan (also known as the "Angels of Bataan and Corregidor" and "The Battling Belles of Bataan"[17]) were the members of the Army Nurse Corps (and the Navy Nurse Corps) who were stationed in the Philippines at the outset of the Pacific War (a theatre of World War II) and served during World War II's Battle of the Philippines (1941–42). When Bataan and Corregidor fell to the Japanese in 1942, 66 army nurses (and 11 Navy nurses and 1 nurse-anesthetist) were captured and imprisoned in and around Manila.[18] They continued to serve as a nursing unit throughout their status as prisoners of war.[19] After years of hardship, they were finally liberated in February 1945.

Slightly after the war, in 1947, Florence Blanchfield became the first woman to receive a military commission in the regular army.[20][21]

Johnnie Phelps claimed in an interview with Bunny MacCulloch in 1982,[22] that in 1947 she was told by General Eisenhower, "It's come to my attention that there are lesbians in the WACs, we need to ferret them out...." Phelps replied, "If the General pleases, sir, I'll be happy to do that, but the first name on the list will be mine." Eisenhower's secretary added, "If the General pleases, sir, my name will be first and hers will be second." Phelps then told Eisenhower, "Sir, you're right, there are lesbians in the WACs – and if you want to replace all the file clerks, section commanders, drivers, every woman in the WAC detachment, I will be happy to make that list. But you must know, sir, that they are the most decorated group – there have been no illegal pregnancies, no AWOLs, no charges of misconduct." Eisenhower dropped the idea.[23][24][25][26][27][28][29] Later Phelps said, "There were almost nine hundred women in the battalion. I could honestly say that 95 percent of them were lesbians".[26]

In 1948 the Women's Armed Services Integration Act gave women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Army.[5]

Korean War and after until the Vietnam War[edit]

Army women who had joined the Reserves following World War II were involuntarily recalled to active duty during the Korean War.[5] Although no Women's Army Corps unit was sent to Korea, approximately a dozen WACs, including one officer, served in Seoul and Pusan in secretarial, translator, and administrative positions in 1952 and 1953.[30] As well, many WACs served in support positions in Japan and other overseas locations.[30] Over 500 Army nurses served in the combat zone and many more were assigned to large hospitals in Japan.[5] One Army nurse died in a plane crash on her way to Korea on July 27, 1950, shortly after hostilities began.[5]

After the war, in 1960 a ban began on all transgender people, including but not limited to transgender women, from serving and enlisting in the United States military, including but not limited to the Army.[citation needed]

Vietnam War[edit]

In 1967, during the Vietnam War, Public Law 90-130 was signed into law; it removed legal ceilings on women's promotions that had kept them out of the general and flag ranks, and dropped the two percent ceiling on officer and enlisted strengths for women in the armed forces.[31] Women's Army Corps soldiers served in the Vietnam War; at their peak in 1970, WAC presence in Vietnam consisted of some 20 officers and 130 enlisted women.[32]

During the war, Anna Mae Hays, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, became the first U.S. female brigadier general on June 11, 1970. Minutes later, Elizabeth Hoisington, Director of the Women's Army Corps, became the second.[5] An Army nurse (1st LT Sharon Ann Lane) was the only US military woman to die from enemy fire in Vietnam. Two other Army nurses were awarded the Soldier's Medal for heroism in Vietnam; one was African-American 1LT Diane Lindsay. She was cited for restraining a Vietnamese soldier patient, who had pulled a pin from a live grenade at the 95th Evacuation Hospital in Vietnam. 1LT Lindsay helped convince the soldier to relinquish a second grenade, avoiding additional casualties.[33][34][35][36]

Women in the Army since 1972[edit]

A female soldier maintaining her 50-caliber machine gun before undertaking a mission in Afghanistan during 2006

Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973), was a landmark Supreme Court case[37] which decided that benefits given by the military to the family of service members cannot be given out differently because of sex.[38]

West Point admitted its first 119 female cadets in 1976, after Congress authorized the admission of women to the federal service academies in 1975.[39][40] Four years later 62 female cadets graduated, including the first two black female graduates, Joy Dallas and Priscilla "Pat" Walker Locke.[41] In 1989, Kristin Baker became the first female First Captain (an effigy of her is now on display in the Museum), the highest ranking senior cadet at the academy.[42] Rebecca Marier became the academy's first female valedictorian in 1995.[43]

In 1978, the Women's Army Corps was disestablished and its members integrated into the regular Army.[44]

The Gulf War involved the deployment of approximately 26,000 Army women.[45] Two Army women were taken as POWs (Army Specialist Melissa Rathbun-Nealy and Maj. Rhonda Cornum).[46][47][48]

Before the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was enacted in 1993, lesbians and bisexual women were banned from serving in the Army since 1944 (see above).[49] In 1993 the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was enacted, which mandated that the military could not ask servicemembers about their sexual orientation.[50][51] However, until the policy was ended in 2011 service members were still expelled from the military if they engaged in sexual conduct with a member of the same sex, stated that they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and/or married or attempted to marry someone of the same sex.[52]

On April 28, 1993, combat exclusion was lifted from aviation positions by Les Aspin, permitting women to serve in almost any aviation capacity.[53]

In 1994, the Pentagon declared:

Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.[54]

That policy also excluded women being assigned to certain organizations based upon proximity to direct combat or "collocation" as the policy specifically referred to it.[55] According to the Army, collocation occurs when, "the position or unit routinely physically locates and remains with a military unit assigned a doctrinal mission to routinely engage in direct combat."[56]

In 1996, the Aberdeen scandal, a military sexual assault scandal, which occurred at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a United States Army base in Maryland resulted in the Army bringing charges against 12 commissioned and non-commissioned male officers for sexual assault on female trainees under their command with four officers sentenced to prison time.

American women in the Army served in the Afghanistan War from 2001 until 2014, and in the Iraq War from 2003 until 2011.[57][58][59] In 2008, Ann Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in the Army; she was also the first in the military.[60][61] In 2011, Patricia Horoho became the first female Army surgeon general.[62]

In 2013, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta removed the military's ban on women serving in combat, overturning the 1994 rule. Panetta's decision gave the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believed any positions must remain closed to women. The services had until May 2013 to draw up a plan for opening all units to women and until the end of 2015 to actually implement it.[63][64]

In August 2015, Kristen Marie Griest and Shaye Lynne Haver became the first two women to graduate from the US Army Ranger School.[65][66][67] In October 2015, Lisa Jaster became the third woman to graduate from this school, and the first one from the Army Reserves.[68]

In September 2015, Ranger School was permanently opened to women.[69][70]

In December 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated that starting in 2016 all combat jobs would open to women.[71]

Brig. Gen. Diana Holland became West Point's first woman Commandant of Cadets in January 2016.[72]

In March 2016, Ash Carter approved final plans from military service branches and the U.S. Special Operations Command to open all combat jobs to women, and authorized the military to begin integrating female combat soldiers "right away."[73]

From 1960 to June 30, 2016, there was a blanket ban on all transgender people, including but not limited to transgender women, from serving and enlisting in the United States military, including but not limited to the Army. From June 30, 2016 to April 11, 2019, transgender personnel in the United States military were allowed to serve in their preferred gender upon completing transition. From January 1, 2018 to April 11, 2019, transgender individuals could enlist in the United States military under the condition of being stable for 18 months in their preferred or biological gender.

In April 2016, Tammy Barnett became the first woman to enlist in the infantry in the U.S. Army,[74] and Kristen Marie Griest became the first female infantry officer in the U.S. Army when the U.S. Army approved her request to transfer there from a military police unit.[75] In May 2016, Shelby Atkins became the first female U.S. Army noncommissioned officer to be granted the infantry military occupational specialty.[76]

On October 26, 2016, ten women became the first female graduates from the United States Army's Infantry Basic Officer Leader's Course at Fort Benning, Georgia.[77]

In 2017, eighteen women graduated from the United States Army's first gender-integrated infantry basic training for enlisted soldiers.[78]

In 2019, Laura Yeager became the first woman to lead a US Army infantry division (specifically, the California National Guard's 40th Infantry Division.)[79]

See also[edit]


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  6. ^ 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.
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