MILITARY WOMEN FIRSTS
Women in the U.S. military have always had a "tough row to hoe"
and we owe a lot to those women who literally broke ground, opened doors,
and made the choice of a military career easier for those who followed.
Beginning with the early pioneers, who were almost never recognized, here
are some of the military women of achievement and their accomplishments.
Please bear in mind that the terms WAC - Women's Army Corps - WAVE - Women
Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service - WAF - Women in the Air Force
- and so on, are used in the context of the times. We were called by those
acronyms from the 1940s until the separate women's branches were eliminated
in the mid 1970s.
The First to Receive Pensions for Military
Contrary to slanted opinions about women there is a long historical
precedent for women in some form of warfare - though not always in a uniform.
For the early pioneer women "home defense" was as routine as
drawing well water. And in the Revolutionary decade the first known woman
to serve was awarded the first pension for her service. Margaret Corbin
fought with her husband at Fort Washington and in 1779 Congress voted her
a disability pension of one half a soldiers pay and one suit of clothes
or the equivalent in cash.
Years later, another Revolutionary heroine, Deborah Samson, was
granted a pension by the Massachussettes legislature in 1804 and the Commonwealth
of Pennsylvania awarded Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley a pension in 1822 of
forty dollars a year "for services rendered" during the war.
During the Mexican War, Elizabeth C. Newcume, in male attire,
was mustered into military service at Fort Leavenworth in September 1847.
She served ten months and spent time fighting indians at Dodge City until
her sex was discovered and she was discharged. It took a private act of
Congress to pay Elizabeth Newcume who received a bounty land warrant for
160 acres and full payment for ten months service, plus three months extra
pay, as provided in the 5th section of the act of 19 July 1848.
The First to Receive Medals
The first, and only, woman to receive The Medal of Honor was Dr.
Mary E. Walker, a contract surgeon during the Civil War.
The first woman to receive The Purple Heart was Ann Leah Fox
wounded while serving at Hickam Field during the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor, Dec 7 1941.
The first woman to receive The Bronze Star was Lt Cordelia
E. Cook, Army Nurse Corps, during WWII in Italy. Lt Cook was also awarded
The Purple Heart, becoming the first woman to receive two awards.
Lt Edith Greenwood was awarded The Soldiers Medal in 1943 for
heroism during a fire at a military hospital in Yuma Arizona - the first
woman to receive this award.
The first woman to receive The Air Medal was Lt Elsie S. Lott
awarded for her actions in 1943 as an air evac nurse.
Barbara Olive Barnwell was the first woman awarded the Navy-Marine
Corps Medal for heroism in 1953.
Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, the first Director of the WAC, was
the first woman to receive The U.S. Army Distinguished Service Medal in
The First to Enlist
Philadelphian Loretta Walsh enlisted in March of 1917 and became
the first Yeoman (F) in the Navy.
Twin sisters Genevieve and Lucille Baker joined the Coast Guard.
In August of 1918 Opha M. Johnson enlisted as the first woman
in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
The First Directors - WWII
WAVES - Captain Mildred H. McAfee - Navy
WAAC/WAC - Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby - Army
SPARS - Lt Commander Dorothy C. Stratton - Coast Guard
MCWR - Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter - Marines
The First on a U.S. Postage Stamp
Spanish American War Nurse Clara Maass, who died as a result
of yellow fever. Army Contract Nurse Maass volunteered to participate in
an experimental treatment program,after having survived the war.
Firsts in a variety of areas:
Olive Hoskins was the very first woman promoted to Warrant Officer
in the Army in 1926.
The first WAAC OCS class was at Ft Des Moines, Iowa from 20 July to
29 August 1942.
One of the first WAAC/WAC First Sergeants at Des Moines in '42 was MSgt
Margaret A. Hardy of South Amboy, New Jersey.
The first military all women band was the Women's Army Band organized
at Fort Des Moines in 1942. It was led by then sergeant MaryBelle Nissly
- the job called for a warrant officer but there was no legal precedent
to appoint her to that rank. As a result of special legislation, early
in 1944 WAC Sergeant Nissly became the first woman in military history
to win a warrant officer band leader appointment. WO Nissly left the Army
in 1946 but returned to the service as a Captain in the Air Force in 1951
to organize the USAF WAF Band. The 50 member concert unit performed all
over the world playing everything from classics to rock and roll. Unique
to the WAF band was the only woman coach horn soloist in the USA - Tech
Sgt Marty Awkerman, a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory.