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Military Health System

Women in the U.S. Military

Timeline of Women in the U.S. Military: 1778 - Molly Pitcher assumed her injured husband's spot on the cannon (Revolutionary War). 1901 - Women started serving on active duty in the U.S. Army. 1909 - Women started serving in the U.S. Navy. 1914-1918 (WWI) & 1939-1945 (WWII) - Numbers of women increased, primarily as nurses, and secretarial communications support personnel. 1994 - Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule opened jobs except for direct ground combat elements to women. After 2001 (Post 9/11) - >300,000 women deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. 2013 - Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta lifted the last remaining ban on women's participation in combat. 2016 - All military jobs opened to females.Women have served in the U.S. military throughout its history — either officially or unofficially — in both supporting roles and as combatants. Prior to World War I, women served primarily in the roles of nurse, physician, laundress, armament worker, communications support, as well as combatant. In 1901, women began officially serving in the U.S. Army and in the Navy in 1909. After World War I, women’s participation came to be regarded as a necessity rather than just an option during times of crisis. Since then, the numbers of women in the U.S. military has grown and female service members, who play broad and pivotal roles in military operations, are achieving milestones that put them increasingly on par with their male counterparts.

Learn about the history of women in the U.S. Army and see profiles of their achievements. The Naval History and Heritage Command provides information on the history of women in the U.S. Navy, including women trailblazers and ships named after women. The National Museum of the United States Air Force offers a virtual exhibit of Women in the Air Force from Yesterday into Tomorrow. Publications documenting women’s experiences in the Marine Corps are available from the U.S. Marine Corps website, including Women Marines in World War I and A History of Women Marines 1946–1977. The U.S. Coast Guard Historian’s Office offers a chronology of Women in the U. S. Coast Guard — Moments in History from the 1830s to the present. 

In addition, the Department of Defense celebrates Women’s History Month every year in March with articles and highlights from around the services

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DHA recognizes the service of women on Women's Equality Day

The DHA honored the dignity of women by celebrating Women’s Equality Day, an observance commemorating the 19th Amendment’s ratification.  (DOD graphic by Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute)

The DHA honored women’s dignity on Women’s Equality Day.

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Women in the U.S. Military
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Last Updated: August 27, 2021
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