March 31, 2006

In honor of Women's History Month

This was really a fun article for me to write. I enjoyed it so much. I am working on an article for next week about Women in today's military. I'll post after it's published!

-- Published in Fort Polk Guardian (March 31, 2006) --
By: MICHELLE LINDSEY, Guardian staff writer

For women, serving the country through military service has followed the same path as the right to vote. It has been hard and sometimes discouraging, but defeat was not an option.
The official history of women in the United States military begins with the establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. But this excludes the tens of thousands of women who have served in the military since this country’s founding.
These women identified and buried the dead and cared for sick and wounded troops. They helped supply food, clothing and ammunition to armies in the field. These women gathered intelligence, delivered messages and warned the troops of danger.
In the military, during the 18th and 19th centuries, women were allowed to draw half-rations for themselves and their children in exchange for cooking, sewing and laundry. The majority of these women were military dependents who accompanied their male relatives into service, often because they had no other option.
Even without the harshness of battlefield situations, the life of the female dependent was difficult. In the late 1870s, married Soldiers and their families lived year round in severe conditions.
At Fort Sill, Okla., families lived in tents and at Fort Dodge, Iowa, families lived in earthen caves near the riverbanks. At Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and other bases, enlisted families lived in the open until they were able to build or buy shelter.
Soldiers were provided with daily rations of food, but families were not, so wives were forced to work on post.
Women in the camps tended the sick and wounded, which was considered “women’s work.” The fearless image of the battlefield nurse is correct, but those depictions show only a fragment of the duties these women performed.
Before World War II, the United States, as well as many other countries, lost most of its army to sickness rather than battle. Diseases such as typhoid, influenza, malaria and yellow fever were frequent killers in military camps and battlefields. There was little medical knowledge of how to cure the sick or prevent illness. Military doctors were there to amputate mangled limbs and remove bullets. Care was left to women who often made the difference in a Soldier’s survival.
Women kept wounds clean and bathed and fed patients. They were also responsible for keeping the delirious and psychotic from injuring others, sometimes at the cost of injury to themselves.
Prior to World War I, enlistment in the military was simple, sometimes with only the need to complete a form. This allowed many women to join the military disguised as men. There is no way to know how many women served in the military with their genders undiscovered. Those caught were often sent home or arrested. A few were allowed to continue fighting.
Their courage and determination to gain equality in the military has been the foundation of today’s military woman.
The journey of females in the military has been a long one, and women play a vital role in today’s military service. They have gained the right to serve as officers and leaders of some of America’s finest heroes. Some women who have served in the military include:

–– Deborah Sampson Gannett adopted the name Robert Shurtliff in 1782 and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment for a term of three years to help fight the Revolutionary War. She was 22 and the first woman known to enlist as a Soldier in the American Army. Gannett was wounded in her left thigh during the Battle of Tarrytown in New York. To keep her secret safe, she treated herself, but later developed a fever and was sent to a hospital where her gender was discovered by a doctor. He told no one, but requested a medical discharge for her. In 1792, Gannett made a request to the Massachusetts legislature for back pay that she was entitled to as a former Continental soldier in the Massachusetts Line. Her neighbor, Paul Revere, endorsed her request and the Massachusetts Assembly passed a resolution granting her 34 pounds bearing interest from the date of her discharge from the Continental Army as Pvt. Robert Shurtliff. John Hancock, president of the assembly, approved the resolution granting her the back pay.

–– Margaret Corbin and Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley: Both women fought with their husbands during the Revolutionary War. McCauley gained the nickname of “Molly Pitcher” in 1778 by carrying water to men on the battlefield at Monmouth, New Jersey. Corbin stood at a cannon beside her husband John and handled ammunition. When he was fatally wounded, she took his place at the cannon until wounded herself. McCauley also replaced her husband, Captain John Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon.

–– Clara Barton was known as the angel of the battlefield during the Civil War despite a lack of medical education. The outbreak of war resulted in waves of wounded Union Soldiers into Washington, D. C. Barton recognized the unpreparedness of the Army Medical Department and lobbied the bureaucracy to allow her to bring her own medical supplies to the battlefields. Finally, with the help of sympathetic U. S. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, Barton was permitted to bring her supplies. She worked with exhausted doctors helping wounded Soldiers as the battle continued. History records that at one battlefield, as she knelt to give a man a drink, she felt her sleeve quiver. She looked down and noticed a bullet hole in her sleeve. The bullet that had nearly hit her killed the man she was helping, but she carried on. Barton later founded the American Red Cross in 1881.

–– Jacqueline Cochran: She was first introduced to aviation in the 1930s. She competed in aviation events for several years, earning top honors and setting records. When World War II began, Cochran traveled to England to observe how female pilots were helping the British war effort. She had been contemplating the idea of a fleet of women aviators who could fly military aircraft in support of general operations. The idea was to free up men so they could fight instead of dealing with such tasks as ferrying military planes and providing basic aerial training. Cochran got her wish in 1942. Army Air Force Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold asked her to organize the Women’s Flying Training Detachment to train women pilots to handle basic military flight support. The following year, Cochran received an appointment to lead the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, or WASPs. The WASPs proved invaluable to the war effort. They transported planes overseas, tested various military aircraft, taught aerial navigation and provided target towing. Under Cochran’s leadership, the WASPs grew to well over 1,000 members.

–– Brig. Gen. Clara Adams Ender: In 1967 she became the first woman in the Army to receive the Expert Field Medical Badge. In 1976 she became the first nurse and first woman to be awarded the degree Master of Military Art and Science at the U.S. Army Command and Staff College. She was appointed Chief of the Nursing Corps in 1987.

The journey of women in America’s military history has been a long road filled with sacrifice and determination in the fight for equality and respect. Memorials throughout America, such as this display at the Houston Buffalo Soldier Museum, recognize their courage and service.

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