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Women in the Military & Women Veterans


Did You Know?
Facts About Women in the Military

Historical Facts about American Women and the Military

  • The first woman awarded a disability pension by Congress for wounds incurred during military service was Margaret Corbin. She took over her fallen husband's cannon in the Battle of Fort Washington during the American Revolution and she herself was wounded.
  • During the War of 1812, two women served as nurses aboard United States, Stephen Decatur's flag ship.
  • During the Civil War women disguised as men served on both sides. Women also served as spies, nurses--including aboard at least one hospital ship and one, Dr. Mary Walker, received the Congressional Medal of Honor.
  • Women have served in the American armed forces for over 100 hundred years--since 1901--when the Army Nurse Corps was established. The Navy Nurse Corps soon followed in 1908.
  • Women who were not Nurses were first enlisted in the Navy and Marine Corps during World War I. Only nurses served in the Army during this war; but the Army did hire about 200 civilian women who were fluent in both English and French to serve as telephone operators. These women, often referred to as the "Hello Girls," were later given veterans' status.
  • 432 American military women were killed during World War II. 88 were prisoners of war all but one of these in the Pacific Theater.
  • 7 women died in the line of duty while serving in theater during the Vietnam War. Their names can be found inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial.
  • Almost 41,000 women served in theater during Persian Gulf War. 13 women were killed and two were taken as prisoners of war.
  • To date, more than 20,000 women have served as peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo.
  • Two women sailors were killed and five were wounded in the terrorist attack on USS Cole.
  • About 10 percent of the U.S. Forces currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are women.


African American Women and the Military

  • Harriet Tubman served as a volunteer nurse, spy, and scout for the Union Army during the Civil War.
  • Cathay Williams is the only known woman to have served as a Buffalo Soldier. A former slave, she served as Private William Cathay for two years before her true sex was discovered during an illness. Click here for more information.
  • The first African American women to serve in the US military were a group recruited by the Navy as Yeomanettes during the First World War. They served in various Navy Department offices in the Washington DC area from 1917 until they were mustered out in 1919. For more information on these pioneering women, see Richard Miller "The Golden Fourteen, Plus: Black Navy Women in World War One," in Minerva: Quarterly Report on Women in the Military vol. XIII, no. 3 & 4, Fall/Winter 1995.
  • During World War II about 146 African American women served in the WAC as commissioned officers and about 6500 served as enlisted women. See Martha S. Putney, When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps during World War II, Scarecrow Press, 1992. The first African American women to serve in the Navy during World War II did not enter service until 1944. The first two to receive Navy commissions were Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Wills, both of New York City. The first African American women to serve in the Marine Corps entered in 1949.
  • Brigadier General Hazel W. Johnson-Brown, who served as Chief of the Army Nurse Corps from September 1979 until August 1983, was the first African American woman to reach general officer rank in American military history.
  • Today over 15 percent of active duty women officers and over 33 percent of active duty enlisted women are African American. They serve in every military occupation open to women and in every paygrade through Brigadier General/Rear Admiral (LH).


International Historical Facts

  • According to Herodotus's The Histories, a woman, Artemisia, served as one of Xerxes naval commanders during the Persian Wars including at the Battle of Salamis. Herodotus reports that Artemisia "sailed in command of the men of Helicarnassus, Cos, Nisyra and Calydia and furnished five ships of war…not one of the confederate commanders gave Xerxes sounder advice than she did."
  • Turkish women have fought voluntarily in several wars as combatants. One, Nana Hatun, fought so gallantly in the 1877-1878 Ottoman-Russian War that a memorial was erected in remembrance of her courage and patriotism in Erzurum in Eastern Turkey.
  • During World War II, Soviet women engaged in combat in every branch of the armed forces. Their service as combat pilots was especially notable. The most famous of these were the Night Witches, an all women squadron of bomber pilots, who flew only at night because their canvas and wood bi-planes were too slow to fly day-light missions. A Soviet woman became the first woman Ace with 12 kills. 30 Soviet women pilots were declared "Heroes of the Soviet Union."
  • Women commonly serve as combatants in irregular and guerilla forces. They were combatants in El Salvador. They are involved in combat on both sides of the Sri Lanka fighting. A woman, Maryan Rajavi, commands Iranian National Liberation Army operating on behalf of the government in exile and opposed to the current regime.