Women in the Military How Has Their Role Changed Term Paper

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Women in the Military

Since the beginning of combat history in the United States, women have played an important role in the military. This occurred in both the traditional and non-traditional forms. Women could serve traditionally, for example, as nurses, water bearers and cooks for soldiers in combat. Even in the earliest years, they also served non-traditionally alongside men in the field, where some of them disguised themselves as men. Today, the evolution of women's role in the military has resulted in much greater recognition of the importance of women in the military, especially in terms of their expanding roles. Interestingly, however, there are still some areas in the military where women find themselves restricted from participation or entry.

The Early Years

The Revolutionary War

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The first war the United States experienced as a country was the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Most women who entered the military at this time served as nurses, water bearers, cooks, laundresses and saboteurs (Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, Inc.). The role of these women was vital, as it made the lives of soldiers tolerable. Some women also found employment with soldiers' families, lending support and assistance while the men were away. The women who served in traditional female roles on the battle field shared the hardships of their male counterparts, including inadequate housing, and miniscule compensation for their efforts (Women in the U.S. Army).

TOPIC: Term Paper on Women in the Military How Has Their Role Changed Throughout the Years Assignment

Importantly, however, even during these earliest years, women also served in non-traditional roles; eager to prove their patriotism. Although these women were in the minority, they did form a significant part of the combat effort at the time. Some women served alongside their husbands, while others disguised themselves as men in order to prevent discrimination (Women in the U.S. Army). One example of such a woman is Margaret Corbin, who handled ammunition for a cannon alongside her husband John. She took her husband's place at the cannon when her husband was fatally wounded. She stood her ground until she was also wounded. Margaret was recognized for her bravery by means of a pension authorized by Congress in 1779. Another brave female combatant at the time was Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley, who worked as a water bearer to soldiers on the battlefield in Monmouth, New Jersey. "Molly Pitcher," as she was known to those she served, left the water bottles when her husband William Hays collapsed at his cannon and replaced him (Women in the U.S. Army).

Another non-traditional role for women during the Revolutionary War was to serve as spies. They actively served in alerting American troops regarding the movements of the enemy. Part of these duties was to carry messages and transport contraband. For her role in this capacity, Ann Simpson Davis was commended by General Washington.

The Civil War

With the rise of industrialism, an increasing amount of women joined the workforce in cities and factories during the second half of the 19th century. When the Civil War broke out in the Spring of 1861, these women found themselves in a position to play important roles on both sides of the conflict. At the time, most women still engaged in traditional, although active, military roles. They cared for farms and families, while also encouraging and supporting the war effort (Women in the U.S. Army). In the military itself, they served as nurses, cooks, and clerks, as well as support groups such as the United States Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission, and others.

As the war continued and forces were depleted, the military recognized the necessity of asking for help in the form of female soldiers. In addition to their active role of raying soldiers to fight, some women also served on the battle field. These women were known as "Daughters of the Regiment." Annie Etheridge of the 3rd Michigan Infantry Regiment serves as a good example of a woman who served in a combat capacity during this time. She gained and maintained a reputation for her bravery, stamina, modesty, patriotism and kindness (Women in the U.S. Army). She accompanied the male soldiers on the battle field and often served as a nurse and other forms of caregiving to the wounded and dying.

Many of the women serving in combat during this time therefore played a type of hybrid role in terms of tradition and less traditional roles. Sally Tompkins for example ran a confederate military hospital in Richmond, where the most severe cases were taken, while the staff also achieved the best patient outcomes. She received a captaincy in the Confederate Army with a salary to match. She returned the salary but kept the commission for the power it provided her to run her hospital more effectively. At Sally's hospital, there were only 73 deaths out of a total of 1,333 admissions (Women in the U.S. Army).

Women who wanted to join the battle itself often disguised themselves as men, as they did during the Revolutionary War. Few questions were asked at the recruiter's station, as there was an increasing desperation for manpower. To better fit the part, women bound their breasts and padded the waists of their trousers. In 1866, Dr. Mary Walker became the first woman, and the only one at the time, to receive the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor (Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, Inc.).

The Spanish-American War

During the Spanish-American War (1898), a health crisis struck the United States Army. Thousands of soldiers became ill with typhoid, malaria and yellow fever, which overwhelmed the Army Medical Department (Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, Inc.). Again, it was a woman who came to the assistance of those who were struck down. Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee approached the Army Surgeon General, suggesting that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) should contract professional nurses to serve the U.S. Army. Of the 1,500 civilian contract nurses assigned, twenty died during the war. For her efforts, Dr. McGee was appointed Acting Assistant Surgeon General, and became the first woman in this position. The result of the excellence displayed by both Dr. McGee and her nurses results in the creation of a permanent corps of nurses in 1901 (Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, Inc.). The Navy Nurse Corps's established in 1908.

The World Wars

World War I

During the First World War I (1917-1918), Army nurses were a well-established phenomenon. They served in military hospitals across the world. African-American nurses were also an increasing phenomenon, and served by caring for German prisoners of war as well as African-American soldiers.

A new role for women at the time was to become bilingual telephone operators to work at switchboards. These women were recruited and trained as bilingual operators and stationed near the front in France. Fifty skilled stenographers were also sent to France for work with the Quartermaster Corps (Women in the U.S. Army).

The Navy and Marine Corps also made increasing use of women, although their role was mainly to fill support and occupational positions to allow men to join the combat forces. The Navy for example enlisted 11,880 women as Yeomen to serve in shore billets. There were also a large number of Navy nurses, who served in military hospitals across the world. The Marine Corps made use of 305 female Marine Reservists, who filled positions as clerks and telephone operators. Two women entered the Coast Guard (Women in the U.S. Army).

The First World War culminated in a further recognition of the role of military women with the passage of the Army Reorganization Act (1920). This provision stated that military nurses were awarded the status of officers, from second lieutenant to major. However, full rights and privileges remained a provision only for men (Women in Military Service for American Memorial Foundation, Inc.). More than 35,000 American women entered and served in the military during the First World War.

This War set the stage for the rapid evolution of not only women's roles in the military, but also the way in which the traditional roles of women at the time was viewed by society in general.

World War II

Being a well-established war profession for women by this time, more than 60,000 Army nurses served across the world during this time. Of these, 67 were captured by the Japanese and held as prisoners of war for more than two and a half years (Women in the U.S. Army).

One significant development in terms of the female force is the establishment of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942. This became the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943. Here, women are recognized not only for the caregiving abilities, but also for their prowess in combat. During this war, more than 150,000 women serve as WACs. Many of them are sent to Europe and the Pacific. The Airforce counterpart of this corps was the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), who entered the Airforce as civil service pilots. Although not taking part in direct combat, these women… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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