History of Women in War


female-marines170,000 tours of duty. That’s how many tours of duty women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2002. When people think of the Marines, women are usually not the first thing that pops into their head. Women have been involved in war for many years. More than you possibly may realize. In fact many women made the decision to put their lives on the line and engage in the traditionally manly profession of war way back during the Civil War. Women were spies; some disguised themselves as male soldiers and actually fought in the American Civil War. Patriotism and the love of a good man may have driven some women in to the armies of the Civil War, but my belief is, so did the quest for adventure and their hope for a different sort of paying job than was typically available to women in the 1870’s.

War is between brothers, cousins, friends, and neighbors and some of them are women. If you check back into military records, women served as nurses, spies and also as vivandieres. What is a vivandiere you ask? It is a French Army term used for women who provided food, liquor and provisions to the soldiers.

Since the time of the vivandiere, many practices of war have changed. From our increase of technology, to the way we live our lives. But women, will continue to make history in the Army.

One of the first major shifts for women in the military was in the mid 1970’s. The rules changed from a “military draft” to an “all-volunteer force.” This change created opportunities for women to join the Military. Obviously, the rule was changed because there just weren’t enough people joining the army. Also at this time, women could not fly combat aircrafts or serve of combat ships.

In the early 1990’s congress lifted the ban. Women could now fly combat aircrafts and serve on combat ships. Pentagon rules now dictate that women cannot be assigned to ground combat units. There are many women in today’s troops that are gunners, medics, military police, truck drivers, helicopter pilots, but not in ground combat.

Many women will continue to make history with our current conflict in Iraq even with the explosive devices, suicide bombs and rocket propelled grenades. The rules and the technology have changed from the Civil war to present, but the courage and passion for patriotism in the women who serve, has not. History is still being made everyday by women.

Here is a short list of women and the first medals they received.

  • The first and only, woman to receive The Medal of Honor was Dr. Mary E. Walker, a contract surgeon during the Civil War.
  • The first woman to receive The Purple Heart was Annie G. Fox while serving at Hickam Field during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec 7 1941.
  • The first woman to receive The Bronze Star was 1Lt Cordelia Cook, Army Nurse Corps, during WWII in Italy. Lt Cook was also awarded The Purple Heart, becoming the first woman to receive two awards.
  • Lt Edith Greenwood was awarded The Soldiers Medal in 1943 for heroism acts during a fire at a military hospital in Yuma Arizona. She was the first woman to receive this prestigious award.
  • The first woman to receive The Air Medal was Lt Elsie S. Ott. The award was for her abilities as a 1943 air evacuation nurse.
  • Barbara Barnwell was the first woman awarded the Navy-Marine Corps Medal for heroism in 1953. Barbara Barnwell, a SSGT was a member of the Marine Reserve, saved a soldier from drowning in 1952.
  • Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the first Director of the WAC. Oveta was the first woman to receive The U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal in 1945.

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