One Stowaway and the History of Women in War

As June 6 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, MAKERS takes this opportunity to honor the daring women who fought to serve their country and pursue careers in war and the armed forces.

Women like Martha Gellhorn, who stowed away on a war vessel to get the firsthand story of the Normandy invasion. Each publication was only allowed to send one reporter on a vessel to cover the story and none accepted women. Martha locked herself in the bathroom of a hospital ship and upon landing, disguised herself as a stretcher bearer to get ashore. As women were not allowed in combat, Martha was the first woman on the frontlines and the only woman - and one of the only people - with a firsthand account of the D-Day invasion.

We are in awe of our MAKERS like Pat Foote, who was the first female Deputy Inspector General of the Army, Colonel Jill Chambers who dedicated her career to helping PTSD victims after 9/11, and Angela Salinas, who was the highest ranking female in the US Marine Corp. And though the history books don't always say it, women have always been a crucial part of all war efforts, whether at home, on the field, or in leadership.

Women have had to fight their way onto the Corps, the upper ranks, and the frontlines. And for that exceptional dedication, bravery and strength, we look back on the history of their service and thank them for paving the way.


Today, we honor those who have served the country and celebrate the progress of women in the U.S. Armed Forces. View the progress year by year by scrolling through the gallery. Source: U.S. Department of Defense  

1865: The first woman in U.S. history, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, receives the Medal of Honor.   View photo of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker in NEXT image.

1865: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker becomes the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor.   Photographed here, Walker wears her Medal. Photo: Getty Images

1901: The U.S. Army Nurse Corps is officially established. The Nurse Corps is now one of six medical Special Branches of officers which comprise the Army Medical Department. 

1917: The Navy allows women to enlist and serve stateside during World War I. Most of the 11,000 female yeoman who enlisted worked in Washington, D.C., as draftsmen, interpreters, couriers and translators. 

1918: Opha Mae Johnson becomes the first woman accepted for duty when she enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve in Washington, D.C.

1942: FDR authorizes the creation of women's auxiliary reserves. The Army's female auxiliary members become known as the WAACs; their Navy counterparts become known as the WAVEs.

June 6, 1944: In WWII, the Allies stormed the beach of Normandy, France and launched the largest seaborn invasion in history.  On D-Day, reporter Martha Gellhorn also made history as the only woman on the front lines, disguised as a stretcher carrier. She is the only woman - one of the only people for that matter - to have a first hand account of the invasion.   

1948: After women proved themselves a crucial part of the war effort, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act grants women permanent regular and reserve status in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and the newly created Air Force.

1953: Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Barbara Olive Barnwell becomes the first female Marine to be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for heroism for saving a fellow Marine from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean in 1952.

1967: Marine Corps Master Sgt. Barbara Jean Dulinsky becomes the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam. She was assigned to U.S. Military Assistance Command Vietnam combat operations center in Saigon.

1974: Navy Lt. j.g. Barbara Ann (Allen) Rainey earns her wings as the first female Naval aviator.

1976: Women enter U.S. military academies as students for the first time; 119 women entered West Point, 81 entered the US Naval Academy, and 157 enrolled at the US Air Force Academy. Women also enrolled in the Coast Guard Academy and the Merchant Marine Academy.

1978: Marine Corps Col. Margaret A. Brewer becomes a brigadier general - the first female general in the Corps' history. Navy nurse Joan C. Bynum becomes the first African-American woman to be promoted to the rank of captain.   View photo of Margaret Brewer in NEXT image.

1978: Marine Corps Col. Margaret A. Brewer the first female general in the Corps' history.    Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

1980: The first coed classes graduate from the U.S. service academies.

1990: Navy Lt. Comm. Darlene Iskra becomes the first woman to command a commissioned naval ship when she assumes command of the USS Opportune in Naples, Italy.

1993: On Jan. 13, 1993, then-Air Force Maj. Susan Helms, a member of the Space Shuttle Endeavor crew, became the first U.S. military woman in space.    View photo of Susan Helms in NEXT image.

1993: The first female military woman to go to space, Susan Helms, and the crew of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.    Now a lieutenant general commanding the 14th Air Force, Helms logged a total of 5,064 hours in space, including a spacewalk of 8 hours and 56 minutes in 2001 - a world record for longest spacewalk duration.   Photo: AFP/Getty Images

1995: Gilda Jackson becomes the first African-American woman to achieve the rank of colonel within the Marine Corps and the first woman to command the Naval Aviation Depot at Cherry Point, N.C.

1996: Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Carol Mutter becomes the first female three-star officer in the U.S. Armed Forces when she assumes the position of Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Reserve Affairs at Headquarters Marine Corps in Washington, D.C.   View photo of Carol Mutter in NEXT image.

1996: U.S. Marine Corp Major General Carol A. Mutter becomes first female three-star general.   Here, Mutter  laughs with U.S. President Bill Clinton.   Photo: AFP/Getty Images

2001: Marine Corps Capt. Vernice Armour becomes the first female African-American pilot in the Marine Corps, and later becomes the first woman in Defense Department history to fly combat missions in Iraq.

2005: Coast Guard Lt. j.g. Jeanine McIntish-Menze becomes the first female African-American U.S. Coast Guard pilot, and Air Force Maj. Nicole Malachowski becomes the first female pilot to join the Thunderbirds Air Demonstration Squadron.

2006: After enlisting in the Marine Corps in 1974, Angela Salinas works her way through the ranks to make history by becoming the first female Hispanic brigadier general in the corps.

2008: In November 2008, Army Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody became the first female four-star general in the U.S. armed forces.   View photo of Gen. Ann E. Dunwoody in NEXT image.

2008: Army General Ann Dunwoody becaomes first female four-star general in the U.S. Armed forces.   Photo: Getty Images

2009: The first all-female U.S. Marine Corps team conducts its first mission in Southern Afghanistan. Lt. Felicia Thomas becomes the first female African-Amercian commander of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter when she assumes command of the CGC Pea Island.

2010: Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announces that for the first time, women can be assigned to submarines.

2011: U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Sandra Stosz assumes command of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy as the school's first female superintendant. As she assumes her new role, Stosz becomes the first woman to lead any U.S. military academy.

2013: On Jan. 24, 2013, then-Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta lifted the barriers that have prevented military women from serving in direct combat roles.

2014: Women like Senator Claire McCaskill help make big changes in the military justice system, by creating legislation that scrapped the century-old practice of using a "good soldier defense" to fend off allegations of sexual assault.