Blogs > Cliopatria > When Women First Began Serving in the Military in the United States

Apr 15, 2004 8:07 pm

When Women First Began Serving in the Military in the United States

David Zucchino, in the LAT (April 10, 2004):

Women have served in wars as nurses since the Revolutionary War, although some disguised themselves as men and served as soldiers, particularly during the Civil War. In 1942, the Army created the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, designed to provide women a way to perform the stateside duties of men sent overseas.

But by 1943, commanders overseas began to request that WAACs be sent to fill such behind-the-lines jobs as telephone, radio and telegraph operators, according to Judy Bellafaire, a military historian. In mid-1943, Congress created the Women's Army Corps, for the first time making women officially a part of the Army rather than an auxiliary corps. The Navy, Coast Guard and Marines had established corps of women in uniform for stateside duty, but only for the duration of the war.

By the end of World War II, Bellafaire said, Army women had served in virtually every overseas theater: North Africa, Italy, France, Germany, the Philippines, Australia, New Guinea and Burma. But it wasn't until the Iraq war that women began to die just as often from enemy attack as from accidents -- the principal cause of deaths for female soldiers before last year.

Almost a decade after Congress lifted restrictions on women serving on planes and ships in combat situations, the matter is still controversial, Bellafaire said.

"A lot of it has to do with the whole issue of physical strength -- whether women would be able to physically handle assignments," Bellafaire said. While more men than women are physically capable of performing challenging assignments, she said, many female soldiers are strong and fit enough to do the job.

"There are some men who might be very highly skilled intelligence analysts or highly skilled behind the computer who could not physically qualify for a more dangerous or demanding assignment," Bellafaire said.

Bellafaire said she had not detected any backlash over the unprecedented number of women killed by attacks in Iraq. "It's impossible to say that a female casualty is a worse tragedy than a male casualty," she said. "Every casualty means a family somewhere is devastated."

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