Sunday, June 5, 2016

Women & War ... A Chronology

  • American Revolution (1775-1783): Women serve on the battlefield as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and saboteurs. Read more about them at the National Women's History Museum site.
  • War of 1812: Mary Marshall and Mary Allen serve as nurses aboard Commodore Stephen Decatur's ship USS United States
  • Mexican War (1846-1848): Females left their mark on this war. On the home front and the battlefront, north and south of the Rio Grande, women served their nation in a variety of ways. Read more at this National Park Service site.
  • Elizabeth Newcom enlists in Company D of the Missouri Volunteer Infantry as Bill Newcom. She marches 600 miles from Missouri to winter camp at Pueblo, Colorado, before she is discovered to be a woman and discharged.
  • Civil War (1861-1865): Females on both sides disguise themselves as men in order to serve. Read more at Soldier-Women of the American Civil War
  • Christmas Eve 1862: Three nuns from the Catholic order Sisters of the Holy Cross board the USS Red Rover and become the first female nurses to serve aboard a Navy ship.
  • 1866: Dr. Mary Walker receives the Medal of Honor, the only woman to receive the nation's highest military honor. 
  • Spanish-American War (1898): Thousands of U.S. soldiers sick with typhoid, malaria and yellow fever, overwhelm the capabilities of the Army Medical Department. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee suggests to the Army Surgeon General that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) be appointed to select professionally qualified nurses to serve under contract to the U.S. Army. Before the war ends, 1,500 civilian contract nurses are assigned to Army hospitals in the U.S., Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines, as well as to the Hospital Ship Relief. Twenty nurses die. The Army appoints Dr. McGee Acting Assistant Surgeon General, making her the first woman ever to hold the position. The Army is impressed by the performance of its contract nurses and asks Dr. McGee to write legislation creating a permanent corps of nurses.
  • 1901: Army Nurse Corps is established.
  • 1908: Navy Nurse Corps is established.
    Some of the First Women Sworn into the
    U.S. Marine Corp (August 1918)
  • World War I (1917-1918): During the course of the war, 21,480 Army nurses serve in military hospitals in the United States and overseas. Eighteen African-American Army nurses serve stateside caring for German prisoners of war (POWs) and African-American soldiers. The Navy enlists 11,880 women as Yeomen (F) to serve stateside in shore billets and release sailors for sea duty. More than 1,476 Navy nurses serve in military hospitals stateside and overseas. The Marine Corps enlists 305 Marine Reservists (F) to "free men to fight" by filling positions such as clerks and telephone operators on the home front. Two women serve with the Coast Guard. More than 400 military nurses die in the line of duty during World War I. The vast majority of these women die from a highly contagious form of influenza known as the Spanish Flu, which sweeps through crowded military camps and hospitals and ports of embarkation.
  • 1917: The U.S. Army Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit is formed when 233 bilingual "Hello Girls" are recruited and trained  to work at switchboards near the front in France. Fifty skilled stenographers are also sent to France to work with the Quartermaster Corps. 
  • 1918: Private Opha May Johnson becomes the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve.
  • 1920: A provision of the Army Reorganization Act grants military nurses the status of officers with "relative rank" from second lieutenant to major (but not full rights and privileges).
  • World War II (1941-1945): More than 60,000 Army nurses serve stateside and overseas during World War II. Sixty-seven Army nurses are captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 and are held as POWs for over two and a half years. The Army establishes the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which is converted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943. More than 150,000 women serve as WACs during the war; thousands are sent to the European and Pacific theaters. The Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) are organized and fly as civil service pilots. WASPs fly stateside missions as ferriers, test pilots and anti-aircraft artillery trainers. More than 14,000 Navy nurses serve stateside, overseas on hospital ships and as flight nurses during the war. Five Navy nurses are captured by the Japanese on the island of Guam and held as POWs for five months before being exchanged. A second group of eleven Navy nurses are captured in the Philippines and held for 37 months. The Navy recruits women into its Navy Women's Reserve, called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), starting in 1942. Before the war is over, more than 80,000 WAVES fill shore billets in a large variety of jobs in communications, intelligence, supply, medicine and administration. The Marine Corps creates the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943. Marine women serve stateside as clerks, cooks, mechanics, drivers, and in a variety of other positions. The Coast Guard Women's Reserve (SPAR) ... after the motto Semper Paratus - Always Ready) was established in 1942. SPARs are assigned stateside and serve as storekeepers, clerks, photographers, pharmacist's mates, cooks and in numerous other jobs. In 1943, the US Public Health Service establishes the Cadet Nurse Corps which trains some 125,000 women for possible military service. More than 400,000 American military women serve at home and overseas in nearly all non combat jobs. As the country demobilizes, all but a few servicewomen are mustered out, even though the United States, now a world power, is forced to maintain the largest peacetime military in the history of the nation.
  • 1943: Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter, first Director of Women Marine Reservists; Captain Anne Lentz, first commissioned Marine officer; Private Lucille McClarren, first female to enlist in the marines. 
  • 1945: First detachment of women Marines arrives in Hawaii for duty.
  • Korean War (1950-1953): Service women who had joined the Reserves following World War II are involuntarily recalled to active duty during this war. More than 500 Army nurses serve in the combat zone and many more are assigned to large hospitals in Japan during the war. One Army nurse dies in a plane crash en route to Korea on July 27, 1950, shortly after hostilities begin. Navy nurses serve on hospital ships in the Korean theater of war as well as at Navy hospitals stateside. Eleven Navy nurses die en route to Korea when their plane crashes in the Marshall Islands. Air Force nurses serve stateside, in Japan and as flight nurses in the Korean theater during the conflict. Three Air Force nurses are killed in plane crashes while on duty. Many other servicewomen are assigned to duty in the theater of operations in Japan and Okinawa.
  • Lebanon Crisis (1958): Military nurses are assigned to the hospitals which deploy during the crisis to support over 10,000 troops.
  • Vietnam War (1965-1975): Some 7,000 American military women serve in Southeast Asia, the majority of them nurses. An Army nurse is the only US military woman to die from enemy fire in Vietnam. An Air Force flight nurse dies when the C-5A Galaxy transport evacuating Vietnamese orphans she was aboard crashes on takeoff. Six other American military women die in the line of duty.

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