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United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE: Women's History Month 2015


  • The American Revolution: 1775-1783

    1775 - 1783

    Women commonly served traditional roles within the U.S. Army such as cooks, laundresses, nurses and seamstresses. Many military garrisons counted on these roles to makes service members' lives tolerable. However, even during the American Revolution some women chose to forgo traditional roles by serving in combat alongside their husbands or disguised as men, while other courageous women took on roles as spies.

  • Representation of the U.S. Frigate United States, Stephen Decatur Esqr. Commander, Capturing His Britannic Majesty's Frigate Macedonian


    Mary Marshall and Mary Allen serve as nurses aboard Commodore Stephen Decatur's ship, the United States.

  • Dr. Mary Edwards Walker wearing her Medal of Honor

    1861 - 1865

    Dr. Mary Edwards Walker volunteers to care for wounded service members in the Union Army and is later appointed the first female surgeon. In 1865, she received the Medal of Honor for her work and was the first woman to receive the award.

  • An army nurse Ernestine Koranda instructs Army medics on the proper method of giving an injection, Queensland, Australia, 1942.


    Congress officially establishes the Army Nurse Corps on Feb. 2, 1901, under the Army Reorganization Act.

  • Group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses, appointed in 1908.


    The Navy Nurse Corps was established by Congress in 1908, but at that time no provision was made for rank or rating comparable to the Navy's male personnel. While they have never held actual rank, the Navy nurses have since been accorded privileges similar to those of officers. Under a congressional enactment approved by President Roosevelt on July 3, 1942, members of the Navy Nurse Corps were granted relative rank.

  • A 1917 recruitment poster for women to join the United States Navy.


    The Navy allows women to enlist and serve stateside during World War I. Most of the 11,000 female yeomen who enlisted worked in Washington, D.C., as draftsmen, interpreters, couriers and translators. Later in World War I, the Navy enlisted 24 African-American women who worked in the Navy Department building.

  • 1918

    Opha Mae Johnson becomes the first woman accepted for duty when she enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in Washington, D.C.

  • 1942

    President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorizes the creation of the Army, Navy and Coast Guard women's auxiliary/reserves. The Army's female auxiliary members become known as the WAACs; their Navy counterparts become known as the WAVEs.

  • 1943

    The WAACs transition into the Women's Army Corps, giving the more than 76,000 women who had enlisted as WAACs full military status. WAAC Director, Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, continued in her post as the WAACs transitioned to WACs. The U.S. Marine Corps creates a Women's Reserve.

  • 1948

    The Women's Armed Services Integration Act grants women permanent regular and reserve status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the newly created Air Force. In addition, Executive Order 9981 ends racial segregation in the armed services.

  • 1953

    Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Barbara Olive Barnwell becomes the first female Marine to be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for heroism for saving a fellow Marine from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean in 1952.

  • 1967

    Marine Corps Master Sgt. Barbara Jean Dulinsky becomes the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam. She was assigned to U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam combat operations center in Saigon.

  • Lieutenant Junior Grade Barbara Ann Rainey


    Navy Lt. j.g. Barbara Ann (Allen) Rainey earns her wings as the service's first female aviator.

  • President Gerald R. Ford


    President Gerald R. Ford signs Public Law 94-106 on Oct. 7, 1975, permitting women to enroll in U.S. military academies beginning in the fall of 1976.

  • 119 female cadets, a few of them seen here with their male counterparts, became the first women to join the Corps of Cadets.


    Women enter U.S. military academies as students for the first time; 119 women entered West Point, 81 entered the U.S. Naval Academy, and 157 enrolled at the US Air Force Academy. Women also enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy.

  • Janna Lambine became the first female designated as a Coast Guard aviator.


    The U.S. Coast Guard assigns its first co-gender crews when 24 women are assigned to serve aboard the CGC Gallatin and CGC Morgenthau. Each ship receives 12 women -- two officers and 10 enlisted personnel -- as members of the crew.

  • 1978

    Marine Corps Col. Margaret A. Brewer becomes a brigadier general -- the first female general in the Corps' history. Navy nurse Joan C. Bynum becomes the first African-American woman to be promoted to the rank of captain.

  • One of the first female cadets receives a diploma from the U.S. Militry Academy during the graduation ceremony May 28, 1980, at West Point, N.Y.


    The first coed classes graduate from the U.S. service academies.

  • Navy Lt. Comm. Darlene Iskra


    Navy Lt. Cmdr. Darlene Iskra becomes the first woman to command a commissioned naval ship when she assumes command of the USS Opportune in Naples, Italy.

  • Lt. Gen. Susan Helms


    On Jan. 13, 1993, then-Air Force Maj. Susan Helms, a member of the Space Shuttle Endeavor crew, became the first U.S. military woman in space. Helms, who retired in April 2014 as a lieutenant general commanding the 14th Air Force, logged a total of 5,064 hours in space, including a spacewalk of 8 hours and 56 minutes in 2001 -- a world record for longest spacewalk duration.

  • Defense Secretary Les Aspin


    Defense Secretary Les Aspin announces the new policy regarding women in combat that rescinds the 1988 "risk rule" and replaces it with a less restrictive ground combat policy. As a result of this policy, 80 percent of all military positions can now be filled by either men or women.

  • Col. Gilda A. Jackson


    Gilda Jackson becomes the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of colonel within the Marine Corps and the first woman to command the Naval Aviation Depot at Cherry Point, N.C.

  • Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter


    Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter becomes the first female three-star officer in the U.S. Armed Forces when she assumes the position of Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C.

  • Marine Corps Capt. Vernice Armour


    Marine Corps Capt. Vernice Armour becomes the first female African-American pilot in the Marine Corps, and later becomes the first woman in Defense Department history to fly combat missions in Iraq.

  • Left: Lt. j.g. Jeanine McIntish-Menze. Right: Maj. Nicole Malachowski.


    Left: Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Jeanine McIntish-Menze becomes the first female African-American U.S. Coast Guard pilot.

    Right: Air Force Maj. Nicole Malachowski becomes the first female pilot to join the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

  • Brigadier General Angela Salinas restates her oath during her promotion ceremony August 2, 2006 aboard Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va.


    After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1974, Angela Salinas works her way through the ranks to make history by becoming the first female Hispanic brigadier general in the corps.

  • Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody


    In November 2008, Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in the U.S. armed forces.

  • Lt. Felicia Thomas


    The first all-female U.S. Marine Corps team conducts its first mission in Southern Afghanistan. Lt. Felicia Thomas becomes the first female African-Amercian commander of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter when she assumes command of the CGC Pea Island.

  • 2010

    Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announces that for the first time, women can be assigned to submarines. Lt. j. g. La'Shonda Holmes becomes the first female African-American helicopter pilot in the Coast Guard. Navy Rear Adm. Nora Tyson becomes the first female commander of a carrier strike group.

  • 2011

    U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz assumes command of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy as the school's first female superintendent. As she assumes her new role, Stosz becomes the first woman to lead any U.S. military academy.

  • 2012

    Connie R. Almueti recently became the first woman to be inducted into the Civil Affairs Hall of Fame during a ceremony at the Special Warfare Command and School at Fort Bragg, N.C.

  • 2013

    On Jan. 24, 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lifted the barriers that have prevented military women from serving in direct combat roles.

  • 2014

    Michelle Janine Howard becomes the first woman to attain the rank of four-star admiral in the Navy's 238-year history.

  • 2015

    The U.S. Army allocated 40 slots for female candidates in each iteration of the Army Ranger Training Assessment Course, which precedes Ranger School. The first of four Courses started in January. Female soldiers who successfully complete the course requirements will be invited to participate in the assessment of the Ranger Course in April.

By The Numbers

Women's History Month Infographic

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services was established in 1951 by then Defense Secretary George C. Marshall. The committee is composed of both men and women appointed by the secretary. Members are charged with making recommendations on policies relating to the recruitment and retention, treatment, employment, integration and well-being of highly qualified professional women in the armed forces. Please visit Dacowits for more information including its charter, membership and reports.


"As we honor the many patriots who have shaped not only the destinies of other women, but also the direction of our history, let us resolve to build on their efforts in our own time."

Portrait of President Obama.President Barack Obama
Feb. 27, 2015
Presidential Proclamation

Fact of the Day

March 2015

  • March 1, 2015

    In March, we celebrate Women's History Month. For 2015, the National Women's History Project has selected the theme "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives." The theme presents the opportunity to weave women's stories - individually and collectively - into the essential fabric of our nation's history. This year marks the 35th anniversary of the Women's History Movement and the National Women's History Project.

  • March 2, 2015

    In 1981, Congress passed legislation authorizing and requesting the president to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as Women's History Week. Congress continued to pass joint resolutions declaring a Women's History Week every March until 1987, when it passed a law designating March 1987 as Women's History Month after being petitioned by the National Women's History Project to do so. Since that time, every president has issued proclamations for Women's History Month.

  • March 3, 2015

    On March 3, 1887, six-year-old Helen Keller met her teacher Anne Sullivan. Keller had lost her hearing and sight as a result of illness when she was 19 months old. Sullivan taught Keller to communicate using touch and spent the rest of her life as Keller's interpreter and friend. Keller graduated from college and became a famous speaker and author, advocating for race and gender equality and for people with disabilities.

  • March 4, 2015

    Dr. Mary Walker was an outspoken advocate for women's rights and the only woman ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Walker was born in upstate New York in 1832, and she graduated with a doctor of medicine degree from Syracuse Medical College in 1855. During the Civil War, she volunteered for the Union and worked as a nurse and later as a surgeon. In the summer of 1864, she was a prisoner of war until she was exchanged for a Confederate soldier.

  • March 5, 2015

    Bessie Coleman became the first African-American woman to earn her pilot's license in 1921. At the time, no American school would teach Black women to fly, so Coleman trained in France. After earning her license, she flew in airshows and was known for daring stunts. She refused to fly anywhere that did not admit African-American spectators and gave speeches encouraging Black students to become pilots. In 1926, Coleman died in an airplane crash during an airshow rehearsal at age 34.

  • March 6, 2015

    In 2012, Janet C. Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star general in the U.S. Air Force. After receiving her fourth star, she became the commander of Air Force Material Command. She had previously served as military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon, where she oversaw research and development, testing, production, and modernization of an annual $40 billion in Air Force programs.

  • March 7, 2015

    On March 7, 2010, Kathryn Bigelow became the first female director ever to win an Academy Award - also known as an Oscar - for best director. Her film, The Hurt Locker, about members of a U.S. military bomb squad working in Iraq in 2004, won a total of six Oscars at the 2010 Academy Awards. Bigelow was only the fourth woman ever to receive a nomination for the best director Oscar.

  • March 8, 2015

    Every year since 1911, March 8 has been celebrated as International Women's Day. Events held on this day honor women's economic, political, and social achievements. The 2015 theme for International Women's Day is Make It Happen, encouraging effective action for advancing and recognizing women.

  • March 9, 2015

    Tulsi Gabbard was born in American Samoa in 1981 and moved to Hawaii at age two. When she was sworn in as a congresswoman in 2013, Gabbard became one of the first two female combat veterans, the first Hindu, and the first woman of Samoan ancestry to serve as a member of the U.S. Congress. In 2003, she joined the Hawaii National Guard and volunteered to deploy to Iraq. Gabbard continues to serve in the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team.

  • March 10, 2015

    Maria Mestre de los Dolores Andreu became the first Hispanic-American woman to serve in the Coast Guard and the first to command a federal shore installation in 1859. Andreu took over as the lighthouse keeper at the St. Augustine Lighthouse in Florida after the death of her husband, Juan, the previous lighthouse keeper. She served as the lighthouse keeper until 1862, when the light was extinguished so that it would not help the Union Army during the Civil War.

  • March 11, 2015

    In 1921, Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction, which she won for her novel The Age of Innocence. Then in 1923, Wharton became the first woman to receive an honorary doctorate of letters degree from Yale University. The Mount, her home in Lenox, Massachusetts, is now a museum and a National Historic Landmark. Wharton designed the house herself in 1902.

  • March 12, 2015

    Janet Guthrie was the first woman to race in the NASCAR Winston Cup stock car race in 1976. In 1977, she became the first female driver to compete in the Indianapolis 500 and the Daytona 500. She was inducted into the Women's Sports Hall of fame in 1980 and into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006. Before driving racecars, Guthrie was a pilot and aerospace engineer.

  • March 13, 2015

    In 1933, Frances Perkins was appointed secretary of labor under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, making her the first female cabinet member in the United States. She held the position for 12 years, longer than anyone had before her. After serving as secretary of labor, Perkins served on the U.S. Civil Service Commission under President Truman until 1952. After leaving her government service career, she spent the rest of her life teaching and lecturing. She died in 1965.

  • March 14, 2015

    Clara Barton, a nurse and suffragist, is best known for organizing the American Red Cross. During the Civil War, Barton worked to organize efforts to distribute food and medical supplies to the troops and worked treating the injured on the front lines. After the war, she pushed for America to recognize the International Committee of the Red Cross. In 1881, when the American Red Cross was founded, Barton became its president. She remained dedicated to relief work until her death.

  • March 15, 2015

    Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright was nominated for the position by President Clinton and was sworn in on January 23, 1997. At that time, she became the first female secretary of state and the highest ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government. Albright had previously served as a representative to the United Nations and as a member of President Clinton's Cabinet and National Security Council.

  • March 16, 2015

    In 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. At that time, about 305 women joined the Marines to perform jobs left behind by male Marines who left to fight in World War I. Female Marines could not be promoted above the rank of sergeant and performed jobs within the United States that were vacated by male Marines who left to fight in World War I.

  • March 17, 2015

    Dr. Tsai-Fan Yu was born in Shanghai, China, in 1911. In 1939, she graduated with highest honors from Peking Union Medical College and became the college's chief resident of internal medicine. She moved to New York City in 1947 and became a U.S. citizen in the 1950s. In 1957, she became a faculty member at Mount Sinai Medical Center, and in 1973, she was the first woman ever to become a full professor there. She retired in 1992 with Professor Emeritus status.

  • March 18, 2015

    Deborah Sampson was born in 1760. At 21 years old, she became the first American woman to serve in combat by enlisting in the Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtleff during the Revolutionary War. She kept her gender hidden by tending to her own battle wounds, but she was discovered when she was hospitalized for a fever. In 1783, she was discharged from the Army. She later received a pension when a court found that she had performed a soldier's duties.

  • March 19, 2015

    Indra Nooyi was born in 1955 in India, where she earned an MBA. She moved to the U.S. in 1978 and later graduated from Yale University with her second master's degree. Nooyi became a senior vice president at PepsiCo in 1994. She was promoted multiple times and became PepsiCo's first female CEO and president in 2006. Fortune magazine labeled her the most powerful woman in business, and Forbes rated her as the fourth most powerful woman in the world in 2006.

  • March 20, 2015

    Susan B. Anthony was born in 1820 into a Quaker family who considered women and men equal. Anthony spent her life working for equality and promoted temperance and the abolition of slavery. She is best known as a leader in the women's suffrage movement. Anthony was a member of the Equal Rights Association and a founder of the National Woman Suffrage Association. In 1872, she was arrested and convicted for voting. She fought for women's equality until she died in 1906.

  • March 21, 2015

    The Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery opened to the public on October 20, 1997. It is the only major national memorial that was built to honor all the women of the United States' military who served in the past, are currently serving, or will serve in the future. At the memorial, visitors can use view photographs, military histories, and individual stories to learn about women who served in the armed forces from the American Revolution to the present.

  • March 22, 2015

    Delilah L. Beasley was the first African-American woman who regularly wrote for a major metropolitan newspaper. She was also the first person to write about the history of African Americans in early California. In 1915, she began writing a weekly column in the Oakland Tribune. Her goal was to present a positive image of the Black community and showcase African Americans' capabilities.

  • March 23, 2015

    In 1990, Dr. Antonia Novello was appointed surgeon general, making her the first woman - and the first Hispanic person - to hold the position. She had previously worked for almost two decades at the National Institutes of Health, where she took part in drafting legislation concerning organ transplantation. Novello earned her MD from the University of Puerto Rico and completed her training at the University of Michigan, where she was the first woman named Intern of the Year.

  • March 24, 2015

    Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Old Horn-Purdy grew up on the Crow Agency reservation in Montana learning stories of her ancestors from her family while attending school off the reservation. Her desire to learn was her main reason for joining the Navy. In 1985, she was one of the first women on her deployed ship, and in 1999, she was among the first women on a combatant ship. She was in engineering but couldn't be called a machinist for three years until the field opened to women.

  • March 25, 2015

    Nellie Tayloe Ross became the 14th governor of Wyoming - and the first female governor in the United States - in 1925. Ross was elected to replace her husband, who died while he was the governor. In 1869, Wyoming had been the first state to grant women the right to vote, and many in Wyoming wanted their state to be the first governed by a woman. In 1933, Ross was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as the first female director of the U.S. Mint, a position she held until 1953.

  • March 26, 2015

    Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride attended Stanford University, where she earned a PhD in Physics in 1978. She went to space twice and later worked at the University of California, San Diego, as the director of the California Space Institute and as a physics professor. In 2001, she started Sally Ride Science to encourage girls and women to pursue science and math through educational programs and materials.

  • March 27, 2015

    In 2014, 17-year-old Malala Yousafzai of Pakistan became the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient. In 2008, Yousafzai gave a speech denouncing Taliban attacks on girls' schools. Despite a death threat from the Taliban, she continued to advocate for women's right to education. When she was 15, a gunman boarded her school bus and shot her in the head. After multiple surgeries and being taken to England for further treatment, she recovered and continued to promote education.=

  • March 28, 2015

    Born in 1904, Margaret Bourke-White was an innovator in photojournalism and became Fortune magazine's first staff photographer. Life magazine used one of her photos for the cover of its first issue in 1936. As a war correspondent in World War II, she survived a torpedo attack and later covered the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. During her career, she photographed world leaders as well as oppressed people worldwide, determined to bring attention to their plight.

  • March 29, 2015

    In 2011, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho became the Army's 43rd surgeon general. She was the first woman and the first nurse appointed as the Army's top medical officer. In this position, she is the commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command and directs the third-largest healthcare system in the U.S. Before being appointed as surgeon general of the Army, Horoho was the commander of the Army Nurse Corps.

  • March 30, 2015

    Gladys Tantaquidgeon was born in 1899 and was a member of the Mohegan community in Connecticut. She began studying anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania when she was 20. She conducted extensive field research on east coast Indian tribal cultures and herbal medicines and published multiple books. In 1931, she co-founded Tantaquidgeon Museum with her brother and father; it is the oldest American Indian-owned museum in the U.S.

  • March 31, 2015

    "In the end all women and all men can only benefit from the more truthful and balanced image of women which will emerge from history where they are shown to have been actively involved in shaping their own destiny and that of the country." - Eleanor Flexner


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