Mighty Military Women

21, March 2017
Black-and-white photo of Dr. Anita Newcomb McGeeDr. Anita Newcomb McGee. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Women have participated in nearly every major war in this country starting as far back as the Civil War, when hundreds of women disguised themselves as men to serve as secret soldiers, and others nursed the wounded.

Nursing actually paved the way for women’s inclusion in the military. Because so many women served as nurses during the Spanish-American War, the nation’s military leaders recognized there was a need for a centralized body of nurses. As a result, the Army Nurse Corps was formed on February 2, 1901. It was led by Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, acting assistant surgeon in the U.S. Army. (Notably, black women were excluded from the corps until 1947, and male nurses weren’t welcomed until the Korean War.)

Women continued serving largely as nurses in World War I, but some also worked in other roles, such as administrators, secretaries, and architects. World War II brought many historic changes for women serving in the military—it also changed the status and work of women in American society at large. The earlier creation of the Army Nurse Corps helped lay the foundation for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC); the women’s naval reserve, known as Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP); and the Women Marine Corps. As you may have noticed, each group had “cute” nicknames except for the lady marines. Following the true spirit of the Marine Corps, Thomas Holcomb, commandant of the Marine Corps during WWII, had this to say about women marines: “. . . they’re real marines. They don’t have a nickname, and they don’t need one.” Enough said.

Color photo of two parts of a Women's Army Corps uniformWomen's Army Corps service jacket (left) and hospital duty uniform (right). Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.

During my time at Soldiers Memorial, I’ve had the honor of researching and learning about some of the servicewomen whose artifacts we care for in our collections, such as Rose Mae Marikos and Marie Dominica Artale.

Color photo of Rose Marikos's marine uniformU.S. Marines uniform worn by Rose Marikos. Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.

Marikos was born on May 1, 1924, and served in the Marine Corps during World War II as a private first class, aviation specialist. Specifically, she was trained to repair 747A aircraft. In a letter dated March 11, 1946, she requested to be discharged due to pregnancy; her request was granted later that month.

Sepia-toned photo of Marie ArtaleMarie Artale during her World War II service. Soldiers Memorial Military Museum.

Artale was born on February 1, 1919, and served as an apprentice seaman in the WAVES during World War II. She was promoted to seaman second class on April 19, 1943, and promoted from yeoman third class to yeoman second class on March 1, 1944. She was released from service on November 29, 1945, and awarded American Campaign and World War II Victory medals. Her Italian immigrant parents must surely have been proud of their daughter’s achievements.

Women’s role in the military continues to evolve even today. New questions have arisen as well, only this time they’re about such things as women fighting on the front lines, the inclusion of transgender and lesbian servicewomen, and sexual assault in the military. We can’t predict exactly how these questions will be answered, but through the collections at Soldiers Memorial we can look back and honor those women who not only fought for our country but also paved the way for all future female service members.

—Hannah Streicher, Cataloger/Associate Historian, Soldiers Memorial Project

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