Saturday, May 23, 2015

Memorial Day 2015: Women in World War I

We are all familiar with the story of Rosie the Riveter and how women jumped to action during World War II to keep the country moving forward. But did you know decades early, in 1917, the Navy officially enlisted the first women in the military when the United States entered World War I?

WWI Women Marines
Marines conduct a recruitment campaign in New York, NY, 1918.

Before women had the vote, Before women’s fashion allowed for wearing long pants or even skirts above the knee, Before television or radio—women were enlisted to support the war effort. Don’t get me wrong, women had been involved in war before—as spies or nurses or even as disguised soldiers during the Civil War. But never before as official enlisted personnel. 

WWI Hello Girls
US Army Signal Corps telephone operators or "Hello Girls," Tours, France, WWI. Elizabeth Anne Browne Collection, Gift of L.C. Jones. Women's Memorial Foundation Collection.
By the end of World War I in 1918, more than18,000 women had been enlisted in the Navy, Marines, Coast Guard to work in clerical jobs at bases all over the country. Thousands more women had worked in the Army Nurse Corps or as nurses, ambulance drivers, telephone operators, and general volunteers on or near the front line for the Army Signal Corps, Salvation Army, American Red Cross, YMCA, and YWCA among numerous other organizations.

In some instances, it took until 1977 for women to be recognized as veterans of the war and to receive military benefits. Most would not be alive to enjoy the recognition.

On this Memorial Day 2015, and because I’m working on a nonfiction project about women in World War I, I wanted to take a moment to recognize the contributions of these incredibly brave women. Not only did they contribute to the war effort, they also changed the way society viewed women and paved the way for future progress for women’s rights.

Pictures from:

No comments: