Women Pilots in the mid 1900sWomen have been fighting for this country since its existence.

Since the Army Nurse Corps was founded in 1901, American women have served overseas, under fire, and on the front lines in every major U.S. military conflict.  Women have played many important roles over the years and still do today. In nearly 250 years, some 3 million women have served in defense of our nation.  Historians even estimate that 200 women disguised themselves as men to fight in the Civil War on both sides.

There have been many examples of impressive women in the military that valiantly served their country. Women like Prudence Cummings Wright, a 35-year-old mother of 6 in 1775, armed and dressed in men’s clothing, captured a British courier, and delivered him and his documents to the rebellion. Or Sally St. Clare, who also fought disguised as a man and became the first woman to die in battle in 1778. The first Asian American woman to join the U.S. Navy, Susan Ahn Cuddy, became a Link Trainer and later the first female gunnery officer, teaching naval aviators how to fire a .50-caliber machine gun. Cuddy retired as a Navy Lieutenant and went on to work for U.S. Navy Intelligence, Library of Congress, and National Security Agency.

In WWII, over 350,000 women served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Roles included volunteering for the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC, later renamed the Women’s Army Corps), the Navy Women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (SPARS), the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), the Army Nurses Corps, and the Navy Nurse Corps. Eleanor Roosevelt pushed for women involvement in the military because she had seen the success that the British were having with women involvement in their military. Another famous contributor, General Eisenhower, felt that he could not win the war without the aid of women in uniform.

In order to free men to fight, many women quickly filled non-combat roles. They performed clerical jobs, repaired planes, drove trucks, worked as laboratory technicians, rigged parachutes, served as radio operators, analyzed photographs, flew military aircraft across the county, test-flew newly repaired planes, and trained anti-aircraft artillery gunners by acting as flying targets.

Sixty-eight women were captured as POW’s in the Philippines, and 16 women were killed due to direct enemy fire. More than 1600 nurses were decorated for bravery under fire, and meritorious service. 565 WAC’s in the Pacific Theater won combat decorations.

On March 6, 1945, 22-year-old Jane Kendeigh, a Navy nurse, was the first U.S. Navy flight nurse to fly an evacuation mission to an active battlefield. Kendeigh attended to patients on approximately 2,393 evacuation missions of Marines and sailors from Iwo Jima.

Pilot Nancy Harkness Love aboard her plane.

Nancy Harkness Love at the controls of a Fairchild PT-19. Photo credit U.S. National Archives.

The first female pilot in the Army Air Forces and the founder and commander of the WAFS in WWII, Nancy Harkness Love, convinced the United States Army Air Forces to create the WAFS, which she then commanded. Love was awarded the Air Medal and appointed to lieutenant colonel in the Air Force Reserve in 1948.

Army Col. Ruby Bradley, U.S. Army Nurse Corps, retired as one of the most decorated women in military history.  The surgical nurse was taken as a prisoner of war in 1941. During her 37 months in captivity, Bradly performed 230 major surgeries and delivered 13 babies.  Bradly served in the Korean War and was promoted to colonel before retirement.  She received 34 decorations, medals, and awards, including the Bronze Star Medal

General Ann Elizabeth Dunwoody, born in 1953, retired as the first woman in U.S. military history to achieve a four-star officer rank on November 14, 2008. Dunwoody was the first woman to command a battalion in the 82nd Airborne Division in 1992, served as Fort Bragg’s first female general officer in 2000, and was the first woman to command the Combined Arms Support Command at Fort Lee, VA in 2004.

Then there is Gen. Maryanne Miller, a recently-retired four-star general in the United States Air Force. Miller was a pilot who served as Commander of Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base. She previously served as the Chief of Air Force Reserve and the Commander of Air Force Reserve Command. Miller is the first Air Force Reserve officer to hold the rank of General and the first woman to serve as the Chief of Air Force Reserve. She retired from the Air Force effective October 1, 2020 after 39 years of service. Lt. Gen Jacqueline D. Van Ovost was confirmed to succeed her.

We’re honored to celebrate and share the stories of just a few of the groundbreaking women who fearlessly took that essential first step toward becoming a member of our U.S. military.

To all of our military women, past and present, we thank you for your bravery and service.


sources and photo credit: