Since the American Revolution, women have served on America’s battlefield. They served as nurses, spies, cooks, and even disguised themselves as men to fight in the ranks. But it wasn’t until World War I that women officially wore the uniform. It all started on March 21, 1917, when Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlisted as a chief yeoman in the Navy.
A loophole in the 1916 law that established the Naval Reserve Force identified “citizens” and “persons” as eligible to join the force, but not specifically “men.” The Secretary of the Navy directed the enlistment of women into the Naval Reserve in order to fill the ranks of the Navy’s growing fleet and keep up with the demands of clerical and shore duties when the Great War started.
During a ceremony at the Women in Military Service for America Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, women Veterans gathered for the centennial anniversary of Walsh’s enlistment to honor the service of more than 2.5 million women Veterans who have since served our country.
“Walsh served in the Navy before women were even allowed to vote, and yet she earned equal pay. It therefore seems fair that the centennial anniversary of her enlistment falls during Women’s History Month,” said Kayla Williams, director of the VA’s Center for Women Veterans. “As we now recognize the histories of both World War I and women in this beautiful venue, let us honor her and all our sisters in arms for the trails they blazed for all of us,”