American women have been making military history for centuries. Their service to the United States stretches back to the country’s very beginning, when many cared for wounded Revolutionary War soldiers. Since then, women have blazed countless trails within the military – from the first to enlist during World War I to those filling combat roles today.
Here are 10 facts about the many contributions women have made to the U.S. military.
- Although not officially enlisted at first, women have served in the U.S. Army since 1775. In the 18th century, women tended to the wounded, washed and mended clothing, and cooked for male troops.
- After the Civil War, Dr. Mary E. Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor for her work as a contract surgeon in the Union Army.
- In 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt established the Navy Nurse Corps. The first 20 women of the Corps were known as “The Sacred Twenty.”
- Women were officially allowed to join the U.S. military during last two years of World War I, and 33,000 of them signed up to work as nurses and in other support roles. More than 400 nurses died serving America during the Great War.
- During WWII, hundreds of women participated in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program. These pioneer female pilots helped test and ferry military aircraft around the country and were led by Jacqueline Cochran, the first woman to break the sound barrier.
- Navy Rear Adm. Grace Hopper was one of the first and most influential computer programmers. Hopper played an important role in the development of the COBOL programming language and helped shape how programmers code today.
- Women were allowed to begin attending the four service academies in 1976. Four years later, the first 54 female students graduated from these academies.
- In 1998, Cmdr. Maureen A. Farren became the first woman to lead a combatant ship, the USS Mount Vernon.
- Adm. Michelle Howard (Ret.) made history in 2014 when she became the first four-star woman in Navy history. Howard served as commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe before retiring in 2017.
- In 2016, Capt. Kristen Griest became the first female Army infantry officer in the nation’s history. A year earlier, Griest and Lt. Shaye Haver were also the first women to graduate from the Army’s famed Ranger School.
Visit USO.org/Stories to learn more about the legacy of women in the United States military.
Women have joined every military branch, held ranks from enlisted personnel to four-star general, and performed critical jobs from nursing to cybersecurity. Their service and their sacrifice have left an indelible mark on the country’s military history.
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