(Compiled by Tanya Roth, Ph.D. Candidate at Washington University)
The following list includes significant dates in American women’s military history. Although women have participated in all American wars, this timeline focuses on women’s formal relationship with the military, such as through the nursing corps or women’s integration into the armed forces after World War II.
1861-1865 (The American Civil War): Through the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) and the Red Cross, American women begin to serve as nurses to wounded soldiers. Although they do not have formal military status, the USSC operates under the War Department.
1898-1901 (The Spanish-American War): Female nurses begin to serve on a contract basis with the U.S. Army, although they remain classified as civilian participants in the war. By 1901, more than 1,500 women have nursed wounded soldiers in this capacity throughout the war theatre. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee is appointed as Assistant Acting Surgeon General by the U.S. Army, the first woman in this role. After the war, the Army asks her to write legislation for a permanent nurse corps.
1901: Congress authorizes the creation of the Army Nurse Corps.
1908: Congress authorizes the creation of the Navy Nurse Corps.
1917-1918 (World War I): More than 21,000 Army nurses and 1,400 Navy nurses support the war effort at home and abroad. Women also serve in the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve. Two women join the Coast Guard, and the Army uses more than 200 women as switchboard operators and stenographers.
1941-1945 (World War II): The Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard all enlist and utilize women, first in reserve and auxiliary status only. In 1943, Army women receive full military status through new legislation. Over the course of the war, more than 300,000 women will serve in these branches, filling nearly all jobs but combat and combat support.
June 12, 1948: President Truman signs The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which grants women a permanent place in all branches of the military, including the newly-created Air Force. Women can be promoted no higher than the rank of lieutenant colonel, must leave the military when they have children, and cannot comprise more than two percent of the nation’s total military force. Servicewomen, though barred from combat and combat support roles, will receive equal pay to their male counterparts, making the military one of the first employment opportunities to offer women equal pay.
November 8, 1967: President Johnson signs Public Law 90-130, which removes the two percent ceiling on women serving in the military. The law also removes the promotion limits that kept women at lieutenant colonel or below.
1969: The Air Force is the first branch to admit women to its ROTC program.
1970: The first servicewomen receive promotions to brigadier general: Anna Hays (Army Nurse Corps) and Elizabeth Hoisington (Women’s Army Corps).
1973: The Supreme Court rules that the Army must grant dependent benefits to the spouses of servicewomen. Previously, servicewomen could only secure such benefits if they could prove their spouses were dependent on them for at least one half of their financial support.
1975: The military begins to allow pregnant women to remain in service after having their children.
1976: Congress authorizes the admission of women to the military academies (West Point, the Air Force Academy, and the Naval Academy).
1978: Previous legislative provisions that prohibited women from serving at sea are deemed unconstitutional and women receive their first assignments on naval ships. Congress eliminates the Women’s Army Corps and integrates women into the regular Army.
1982: The Air Force admits a woman to the Test Pilot program for the first time.
1990-1991 (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm): More than 40,000 servicewomen deploy to support military operations in the Middle East. Congress removes limitations that prevented women from flying in combat.
1993: Congress authorizes women to serve on ships tasked in combat duty.
2005: A woman receives the Silver Star for the first time in American history for combat action service.
2008: Army General Ann Dunwoody receives a promotion to four-star general.
November 2009: Major General Anthony Cucolo (Army) announces that women in his command in Iraq who become pregnant could face court-martial or other punishment. Following general public uproar over his statement, Cucolo’s superior responds with a retraction.
February 2010: The Pentagon announces that military hospitals and clinics worldwide will begin stocking Plan B contraceptives, also known as the “morning-after pill”.
May 2010: USA Today reports that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell affects women and minorities in disproportionate numbers.
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