The Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA) was dedicated on 18 October 1997, to honor women who have served and are serving in the branches of the United State military. The memorial is located in the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery by Memorial Bridge at the end of Memorial Drive. The website for WIMSA is www.womensmemorial.org.
American women and their involvement with the military have evolved over the centuries. During the American Revolution women were not allow to join the military units as soldiers. However wives and others, known as camp followers, traveled along with the troops as they moved from one position to another. One camp follower wife became well known during the 1778 Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey. She is known as Molly Pitcher. She helped her Army husband, serving with an artillery unit, by providing water on a very hot June day. When her husband was wounded, she started to help load the cannon and keep it in action against the British Army. Another female, Deborah Sampson, disguised herself as a man and enlisted as a Continental Army member to fight.
Women assisted the military during the American Civil War, by giving medical assistance to the men wounded in battle and spying on opposing forces. The Medal of Honor was created in 1861, for actions great bravery. The Medal of Honor was awarded in 1865 to Dr. Mary Walker for actions as a Contract Surgeon with the Union Army. She was also held as a Prisoner of War towards the end of the Civil War by the Confederate forces. After an early 1900s review of Medal of Honors that were awarded, 911 awards were revoked including the one awarded to Mary Walker. Her Medal of Honor was reinstated in 1977. She died in 1919 and was buried in Oswego, New York.
When America entered WWI, there was need for an increased amount of manpower especially in the Navy. Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, utilized a clause of The Naval Act of 1916 to have women become members of the United States Naval Reserve, to assist with the manpower situation. Their official name was Yeoman (F) but some people preferred to call them Yeomanettes. The majority of the women served in administrative positions, freeing up males for duty on ships and in other combat roles.
At the start of America’s official involvement in World War II, members of the Army and Navy Nurse Corps were stationed in the Philippines. When the nation was invaded by the Japanese in the 1941-42 period, several were captured and interned by the Japanese until American forces freed them in 1945. Some nurses were able to escape the Japanese aboard a submarine, from Corregidor.
World War II saw the creation of the Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and the Coast Guard SPARS which stood for Sempter Paratus Always Ready. The women were trained in a wide number of occupational fields to take the place of males, for service in combat. They worked in the motor pools, administrative duties, communications and so on.
To free up pilots, the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs) was formed in 1943 as a semi- military unit. It was not until 1977 that they succeeded in gaining veteran status, for their WWII services. Their duties were to ferry military planes from the factories to where they were needed, even across the Atlantic Ocean and other non-combat associated aviation duties. There participation freed up males to be used on the front lines of the war.
The 1948 Women Armed Services Integration Act gave females a permanent status in the armed services. The 1970’s saw many changes for female members of the armed forces, including the entrance of females into the military academies. The first female cadets and midshipmen graduated in 1980. Today, there are female Navy officers serving on combat submarines and soon there will also be enlisted females on submarines.
There are so many other stories and historical information about women have served or are serving in the United States Military. You can find additional information in the following books:
Serving Proudly: a History of Women in the U.S. Navy by Susan H. Godson
Sound Off!: American Military Women Speak Out by Dorothy & Carl J. Schneider
Changing the Rules of Engagement by Martha LaGuardia-Kotite
Men Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? By Maring Van Creveld
Women in Vietnam: The Oral History by Ron Steinman
First Class: Women Join the Ranks at the Naval Academy by Sharon Hanley Disher
They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the American Civil War by DeAnne Blanton
WAC Days of WWII: A Personal Story by Dorothy Millard Weirick