12 Things You May Not Know About Women in the Military

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star on June 16, 2005, at Camp Liberty, Iraq. DOD photo

Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester stands at attention before receiving the Silver Star on June 16, 2005, at Camp Liberty, Iraq. DOD photo

Here are 12 pieces of trivia about the legacy of women in the United States military. See if you know them:

1. Although they weren’t officially enlisted at first, women have served in the U.S. Army since 1775. In the 18th century, American women tended to the wounded, washed and mended clothing and cooked for male troops.


Mary E. Walker

2. In 1779, Margaret Corbin became the first woman to receive a military pension. During the Revolutionary War, Corbin manned her husband’s canon after he was shot and killed in battle. Corbin was subsequently injured in the same battle and never fully recovered from her wounds.

3. 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. She’s the only woman to receive this award. In 1917, Walker was stripped of her medal due to changes in regulations. After many appeals, her medal was reinstated in 1977.

4. In 1866, Cathay Williams was the first African American woman to enlist in the Army, doing so under the pseudonym William Cathay. She was assigned to the 38th U.S. Infantry. Despite being hospitalized for illness several times, she managed to hide her gender for almost two years before a post surgeon discovered she was a female, leading to her discharge.


Twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker

Twins Genevieve and Lucille Baker. DOD photo

5. 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.

6. In 1918, twins Genevieve and Lucille Baker became two of the first women to serve in the Coast Guard.

7. 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. Also, she’s often credited with popularizing the term “debugging.”


Navy Adm. Grace Hopper at work. DOD photo

8. During World War II, 88 American women were captured and held as prisoners of war.

9. Brig. Gen. Hazel W. Johnson-Brown was the first African American woman to become an Army general. Brown enlisted in 1955 and later became the chief of the Army Nurse Corps.

10. Females weren’t allowed to attend the four service academies until 1976. The USO’s magazine On Patrol profiled some of these women in its Spring 2012 issue.

Col. Linda McTague

Col. Linda McTague.

11. In 2004, Col. Linda McTague became the first woman commander of an Air National Guard wing and also the first woman to command an Air Force fighter squadron.

12. In 2005, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester (pictured at the beginning of this story) became the first woman since World War II to receive the Silver Star for combat actions.

Women’s History Month Celebrates Women in the Military

Juanita Wilson

Sgt. 1st Class Juanita Wilson (shown at right) accepted a Senate Resolution to recognize the accomplishments of women in the military on Capitol Hill last Thursday, at a Joint Services Women’s History Month Observance.  The resolution – introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California – aims to do five things: “to acknowledge the contributions of women in the military, celebrate the role women play, recognize the unique challenges women face, to strengthen programs for women and to honor women veterans.”

As reported by the Army News Service, “‘I wouldn’t have thought that six years down the road, someone would be thinking about me,’ Wilson said of her surprise at being asked to accept the resolution.  Boxer’s office said the senator introduced the resolution because she wanted to highlight the accomplishments, contributions, and sacrifices of women like Wilson in the military.”

This Wednesday, surviving members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP , program will be honored with a special WASP Congressional Gold Medal, created just last year by Congress and President Obama.  Fewer than 300 WASPs are still alive, making this ceremony particularly poignant.

The LA Times show how much has changed since the era of the WASPs: “One of the pilots attending will be [Carol] Brinton — now Carol Brinton Selfridge (shown at left), 92, and living in Santa Barbara.  ‘They didn’t even let us join the Army,’ said Selfridge in an interview conducted on Skype. ‘We were private citizens.'”  Selfridge’s granddaughter Air Force Lt. Col. Christy Kayser-Cook, however, values that women like her grandmother paved the way.  “When Kayser-Cook was commissioned, two people pinned on her bars — her great-uncle, who had been an Air Force pilot during the war, and her grandmother.  ‘She was always ahead of her time,’ Kayser-Cook said. ‘She only got to fly props and she was jealous that I got to fly jets.'”

We salute the service and sacrifice of these women and all women who have served our nation.  Stay tuned for more stories throughout National Women’s History Month.