Although the Marine Corps has proudly defended the United States since its founding in 1775, it wasn’t until 1918 that women first donned the uniform. Since that time, the role of female Marines has evolved over the years as women continue to show what they are capable of accomplishing for the Corps.
In 1918, roughly 305 women enlisted in the Marine Corps, beginning with Pvt. Opha Mae Johnson. At the time, female Marines could not exceed the rank of sergeant and filled vacancies left by male Marines fighting in World War I.
In 1943, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was established and Col. Ruth Streeter became its first director. Instead of attending boot camp, women Marines received their training in existing naval schools for women. In May of 1943, a total of 75 women Marines had graduated officer training and 722 had made it through recruit training. The Marine Corps established Women Reserve School on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejune, N.C., where future female recruits and candidates would receive training, as well as follow-on job training. By this time the Women’s Reserve numbers had grown to 18,000 enlisted women and 821 officers. Director Streeter made it her mission to integrate women Marines into the Corps.
During World War II, women Marines were cleared to serve in capacities beyond just clerical duties. They held positions in more than two hundred various occupations in every major Marine Corps post. At the close of World War II, the majority of the Women Reserve returned home, save roughly 100 women officers and enlisted Marines at Headquarters Marine Corps.
In 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to serve as permanent members of the armed forces, in addition to a reserve force. In June of that year, the Women’s Reserve was deactivated and replaced by the Women Marines. It was in this year that the first eight enlisted women were sworn into the active component of the Corps.
The following year, women recruits headed to Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C., for the first time as part of 3rd Recruit Battalion to endure a six-week training course. That same year, the first black female Marines enlisted in the Corps.
Although women contributed significantly to the Marine Corps mission during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, there were still significant roles women were not permitted to fill. In 1973, a pilot program was established to train women for duty with specific stateside portions of the Fleet Marine Forces, women were permitted to be assigned to all occupational-specialties except combat arms and women were allowed to command units other than just women units.
In 1975, all occupational-specialties opened to women except infantry, artillery, armor and pilot and aircrew. The latter two were opened up in later years to allow female Marines in the airwing as aircrew and pilots.
In more recent Marine Corps history, female Marines were allowed on ship in the early 1990’s and went through Marine Combat Training after boot camp with their male counterparts beginning in 1997. This year, the first female officer and enlisted Marines became part of a study group to endure infantry training as part of ongoing research about further opening combat-related jobs for women.
“I am taken back every day by what our Marines provide – What they give. They sacrifice body, mind, life and family to serve. They give themselves completely with no questions. They miss birthdays, funerals, first days of school, first bike rides – To serve our Country! That’s Selfless! This isn’t a male or female thing – This is a Marine thing,” Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, Micheal P. Barrett.
We’re highlighting six E-9s in the Marine Corps who together have more than 150 years of service. These women have spent their lives shattering the stereotypes and restrictions put on their gender and now hold prominent positions at major commands around the Corps. But aside from being motivated Marines, these women are people, too. They’re mothers, wives, daughters and grandmothers. And these are their stories.