Feature   Observances

DOD, Nation Celebrate Women's History Month

March 22, 2021 | BY David Vergun , DOD News

March is Women's History Month, a commemoration set aside to honor women's contributions in American history, including in the U.S. military.

On March 16, 1987, President Ronald Reagan signed a proclamation dedicating March as Women's History Month.

"From earliest times, women have helped shape our nation," the proclamation reads.

A poster showing women bears the words "Join us in a victory job" and "Apply at your nearest National Service Office."
Victory Job
A World War II-era poster encourages women to serve on the home front in 1944.
Photo By: Illustration by Maurice Bramley, Department of National Service
VIRIN: 441007-O-ZZ999-001

"Those achievements span the wide range of human endeavor. They have not been attained without the quiet courage and sacrifice of millions of women, some famed, most not," it states.

"Women have fought for moral and social reform and have taken part in and led many great social and political movements of our land. Women have founded many of our philanthropic, cultural, educational and charitable institutions. Women have served our nation with valor and distinction during wartime, nursing the wounded, piloting airplanes, performing vital jobs in defense plants," it continues.

History of Women in Uniform

Although women played key support roles in early U.S. warfare — including the Revolutionary War and the Civil War — it wasn't until March 17, 1917, right before the start of World War I, when the first legally enlisted.

A woman waves for the camera.
Loretta Perfectus Walsh
Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlists in the Navy Reserve, March 17, 1917.
Photo By: Navy
VIRIN: 170317-O-ZZ999-001

On that date, Loretta Perfectus Walsh enlisted in the Navy Reserve. She also holds the distinction of being the first Navy petty officer.

During World War I, about 35,000 women officially served, mostly in the Army, but also in the Navy. About five times that number served in World War II.

President Harry S. Truman signed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act on June 12, 1948. With this act, for the first time, women were recognized as full members of the armed forces. This meant they could finally claim the same benefits as their male counterparts, and it also allowed women to make a career in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. 

Woman in uniform stand in formation.
Standing in Formation
Women sailors stand in formation at the Center for Information Warfare Training, Naval Air Station Pensacola, Fla., Oct. 7, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Neo B. Greene III
VIRIN: 191007-O-ZZ999-001M

Since 2018, June 12 has been recognized as Women Veterans Day.

History Leading Up to Women's History Month

International Women's Day, March 8, was first celebrated in the United States in 1911.

In 1978, the school district of Sonoma, California, participated in Women's History Week, an event designed around the week of March 8.

In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued a proclamation declaring the week of March 8 to be National Women's History Week.

Women sit in a row and work at a telephone switchboard.
Telephone Operators
Women Army Signal Corps telephone operators serve during World War I.
Photo By: Army
VIRIN: 181007-O-ZZ999-001

The proclamation stated, "From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

By 1986, a year before Reagan signed his proclamation, 14 states had already declared March as Women's History Month.