The Liz Library presents Irene Stuber's Women of Achievement




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 Service

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 1945.

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.

Except as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection
are © the liz library. All rights reserved.
For suggestions, additions, and corrections, please email Elizabeth Kates.
This site is hosted and maintained by the liz library.