A Brief History of Women in the U.S Military (Part 1)

 By: Sierra Voorhies

Trivia Question: True or False? Army and Navy nurses, all of whom were women, weren’t given veteran’s benefits and equal rights in the military until 1947, when they were granted officer’s status. 

Answer: True

The role of women in the armed forces has only increased since the Revolutionary War in The United State’s history. The history of Black vs White women in the military has commonly been segregated, so in this article I try my best to elaborate side by side the roles and obstacles White and Black women faced as their service roles grew. 

Historical timeline

Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

During the Revolutionary War, women traveled alongside soldiers and did cooking, cleaning, mending, and healing but didn’t participate in battle. There were exceptions of women who disguised themselves as men to serve. Notably Margaret Corbin kept fighting even after her husband was shot and killed. Black Women who were enslaved were brought into the house to help slave owners wives when their husbands went to serve in the militia. They also worked with men to build forts and served as spies under the promise of freedom after their service (NABMW).

Civil War (1861-1865)

During the Civil War, women grew crops, cooked, sewed, fundraised, and notably served as official nurses; about 3,000 women nurses worked for the Union Army. Historians estimate upwards of a thousand women also dressed as men to fight in the war.  Black women were also official and unofficial nurses and served in both Union and Confederate hospitals, as well as the Navy. Black women in the North were paid to raise cotton on plantations for the Union to sell. At first black and troops of color weren’t paid for their service, so their wives, black women and women of color had to support their whole family by laundering other soldiers’ clothing and making food to sell in the camps. Not until 1864 (3 years into the war) were black men paid fully (NABMW).  

World War I  (1914-1918) and 1939-1945)

Before the First World War, the US Army Nurse Corps was formally established. This is a big turning point because women still didn’t have the right to vote, but they could officially serve in the US military. The US Navy also hired 12,000 women to serve as yeoman, who worked at desks, as operators and translators. The US Army Signal Corps also hired women to be telephone operators “3 kilometers from the trenches in France.” (USO) Black women were not allowed to be military nurses until after Armistice had been signed, and all were terminated from hire when the war was over. So Black women served in other ways during WW1 but were still not allowed full participation (NABMW).