In the modern military, we still have a long way to go, even though servicewomen are much more commonplace than just a few decades ago. However, as we know, America may not be the oldest country in the world, but it has had hundreds of years in which an armed force was vital for its very existence. When you consider the first woman in the military, there are a lot of avenues to take to make that designation. Many will point to Sacajewa helping Lewis and Clark, but this isn’t so. We’re breaking down the first women in the military by branch, by uniqueness, and giving an overall spotlight to provide recognition to female warriors who helped keep us free.
Related: 5 Areas Where Gender Discrimination Is Still a Barrier in the Military
Who Was the First Woman in the Military?
Loretta Perfectus Walsh was the first woman in the military, according to many, but this isn’t quite so, either. When you’re talking about enlistment, and more on that later, you’d be correct, but the defense of the United States has been carried out for much longer than women were allowed to enlist.
Tyonajanegen, also known as Two Kettles Together, was an Oneida woman who fought alongside her husband Han Yerry Tewahangarahken at the Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777, during the American Revolutionary War.
However, if we go back just a bit further, we may have a more accurate answer. Perhaps not everyone would think of 16-year-old, Sybil Ludington to be the first female in the military, but if not, there’s an argument that might make them reconsider.
While Paul Revere gets most of the credit, it was Ludington that would also hop on a horse and ride to help warn American militias of the incoming British military. Her efforts would serve to prepare soon-to-be Americans for the incoming Redcoats at Lexington and Concord.
Deborah Sampson Could Be the First Woman in the Military
In a similar fashion, Deborah Sampson deserves a claim as one of the first women in the military. It was the year 1781, or maybe 1782?… We do know that it was May! Either way, Sampson would defy gender roles and disguise herself as a man named Robert Shurtliff to serve in the Continental Army.
It could be argued that Harriet Tubman was the first African-American woman in the military. While Cathay Williams gets credit for being the first Black female in the military, she was the first Black woman to enlist in the Army under the name William Cathay. A commendable, brave thing to do as a Black woman in 1866.
But Harriet Tubman was the first African-American woman in the military after her assistance through espionage, and helping lead a group of Union troops on a raid through the South Carolina Lowcountry. A raid, we might add, that was successful in freeing hundreds of slaves.
Opha May Johnson
In 1918, World War I was ravaging, well…the world. It was a terrible war that everyone was sure would be the war to end all wars. While history would prove this notion wrong, it was also making a way for women to join the Marines–sort of.
As war raged on, the body count was rising and more American men were needed on the frontlines. The Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels opened up the Marine Corps Reserves for women to serve in clerical roles so that men could be sent to battle. Opha May Johnson was the first in a line of hundreds of women willing to do their part.
Loretta Perfectus Walsh Is Often Considered the First Woman in the Military
Remember Ms. Walsh from earlier? It’s arguable whether or not she was the first ever to join the military as a female, but to say she was the first woman to enlist in the military is an accurate, important designation.
Suggested Read: Female Gladiators Show How Ancient Rome Was More Progressive Than 1900s America
In 1917, Walsh was permitted to join the Naval Reserve in an attempt to attract more men to join the service. How much the first female Chief Petty Officer helped boost numbers is a bit of a mystery, but she would help serve and care for the sick during her time as well as be a part of a Navy recruitment office.
Genevieve and Lucille Baker or Myrtle Hazard? Who is the First Female Coast Guardsman?
Genevieve and Lucille Baker were twin sisters who could have been the first women to serve in the Coast Guard after transferring from the Naval Coastal Defense Reserve during WWI. But some historians point to Myrtle R. Hazard.
While women had previously worked as civilian lighthouse keepers for the Coast Guard, they were not allowed to wear the uniform until the outbreak of World War I. Nevertheless, the first woman to officially take the oath of enlistment for her service was Myrtle Hazard, who served as an Electrician enlisting on January 21, 1918.
First Female General in the Military Was Brigadier General Anna Mae Hays
Anna Mae Hays wasn’t the first woman to serve in the military, but she was the first female general. Hays started as an Army Nurse but would end up rising through the ranks to become the first woman to earn the title of Brigadier General. Her service spanned nearly three decades and her impact was a legacy that continues to this day.
Esther McGowin Blake
The call to serve comes to different people for different reasons, but for Esther McGowin Blake, it was a personal journey that few, if any, could ever relate to. As soon as the Air Force allowed female pilots to join the branch, Blake took them up on it and began a career that ran between 1948 and 1956.
Blake’s son was piloting a B-17 in 1944 when it was shot down in Europe. During the time, her younger son was also in the military and Blake used these factors to help motivate her service for our country. Thankfully, after WWII Blake and her sons were reunited, despite the attack on the B-17.
Nina M. Armagno
Lt. Gen. Nina M. Armagno continues to make history. This is because Armagno is the first General in the fledgling history of the U.S. Space Force. A proud designation for a servicewoman who continues to make a way for future generations of women along with defending our nation today and the conflicts we may face tomorrow.
When Was the First Woman Allowed in the Military?
It wasn’t until 1948 that the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act would pass after being signed by President Harry S. Truman. This bill allowed women to fully serve in the military on a permanent basis.
Except not really. Because there were still several hurdles that women needed to clear that would span the decades between then and now. But let’s be even more clear, we still have work to do even today.
Overall, from the first woman in the military to the present time, a lot has changed, but not everything is as far along as it should be. The women putting their lives on the line and providing skills are no less important and remain heroes who deserve the recognition our country hasn’t always delivered.
Read Next: How Did Mary Walker Become the Only Woman To Win the Medal of Honor?