Women’s Military History Week

March 20, 2017 - March 24, 2017

Liz Estabrooks

Women Veterans Coordinator, ODVA

“When we take a moment to acknowledge this history…, when we ask you to think ‘woman’ when you think ‘veteran,’ it is not because we seek a ‘special’ place, but an equal place beside our brothers, a place where our contributions are also acknowledged.”

Women’s Military History Week is an annual observance declared by the governor during the third week of March to recognize and celebrate the contributions of military women in service to their country. This year’s observance will include an exhibit at the Oregon State Capitol featuring framed portraits of Oregon women veterans from ODVA’s I Am Not Invisible campaign. The portraits will be on display in the south galleria from Monday, March 20, through Friday, March 24.

Why We Have Women’s Military History Week:

Although not officially recognized as members of the armed forces until 1901, the history of women’s involvement in the U.S. military dates back more than 250 years to the Revolutionary War. Since then, women have played significant roles across every major military conflict in American history, often in the face of institutionalized gender discrimination. Some were in the service for only a short time, while others made it a career. Some were celebrated combat heroes, while others served disguised as males. As both officers and enlisted members, in war and in peacetime, service women have circumnavigated Antarctica, nursed soldiers in foreign hospitals, flown Cobra helicopters, built bridges, managed personnel, and watched their buddies die in the field.

Despite this long and rich history, and the fact that women currently comprise nearly 15 percent of active duty personnel, the idea of military service is still coded as male in the popular imagination. This leaves the legacy of women’s military service largely unrecognized or “invisible” to the general public, as Elizabeth Estabrooks, ODVA’s Women Veterans Coordinator and a veteran herself, puts it.

“When we take a moment to acknowledge this history,” Estabrooks says, “we begin to peel away the cloak of invisibility that is heavy with years of words and actions that tell us (women veterans) that we are not seen.

“And when we ask you to think ‘woman’ when you think ‘veteran,’ it is not because we seek a ‘special’ place, but an equal place beside our brothers, a place where our contributions are also acknowledged.”

For details on the I Am Not Invisible campaign, visit www.iani.oregondva.com. General information on ODVA women veteran outreach initiatives can found at www.oregon.gov/ODVA/pages/WOMENVET.aspx.

Significant Milestones in Women’s Military History

Revolutionary War: Women served as nurses, scouts, messengers and spies in the Continental Army. Some women, such as Deborah Sampson, disguised themselves as men and fought and were injured on the battlefield.
Civil War:Women served on both sides of the conflict as nurses, cooks, scouts and spies. At least 400 women again disguised themselves as men to fight in battle.
World War I:In March, 1917, women were granted full rank and equal pay in the Armed Forces. March, 2017, marks the 100th anniversary of this watershed event. Many women in the Nurse Corps saw duty on the front lines of Europe, some of whom were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner. Since women were not officially engaged in “combat”, the government refused to grant disability pay.
World War II:Women served in a variety of positions previously reserved for men, which led to the formation of special units such as the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), Women’s Army Corps (WACs), Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARs), Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs); and the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (WRs).
June 11, 1970:Anna Mae Hays (USA) and Elizabeth P. Hoisington (USA) became the first women to break through the military glass ceiling to receive the rank of Brigadier General (one star).
March, 1978:To help raise awareness in the public consciousness, “Women’s History Week” was initiated and within a few years, a Congressional Resolution made the celebration a national observance.
October, 1978:Women were now allowed to serve at sea aboard U.S. Naval vessels.
September 1, 1996:Carol A. Mutter (USMC) became the first woman to be promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General (three stars).
November 14, 2008: Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody (USA) became the first woman to have four stars pinned to her shoulder in the rank of General.
January 24, 2013: Following a unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the military’s Combat Exclusion Policy was lifted, making both men and women eligible to serve in frontline combat and complete combat operations.