Women in the Army: Choosing to Serve

American women have chosen to serve and sacrifice for the United States Army since its founding. These women never allowed gender-based restrictions to prevent them from supporting the Army.

During the American Revolution, female camp followers took care of the Army’s needs while a few women like Deborah Sampson dressed as men to fight. In subsequent years, women volunteered as nurses or other aides, particularly during the Civil War. The Army employed female contract nurses during the Spanish-American War before giving women an official role in the Army in 1901 with the creation of the Army Nurse Corps. In addition to the Army nurses, during World War I women continued to work as paid contractors such as the “Hello Girls” who operated Signal Corps switchboards. Others supported the Army in auxiliary organizations such as the YMCA or the Red Cross.

With the creation of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in 1943, women finally gained military rank and veteran status. Women served in the WAC and supported the Korean War, Vietnam War, and Cold War until 1978, when the Army integrated women into all but the combat arms branches. A major milestone occurred in 2013 with the lifting of the ban on women in combat.

Today, Army women continue choosing to serve the nation, and they look forward to a future full of new opportunities. This exhibit highlights three important themes that shape the journey of women in the Army. It focuses on the ideas of choice, duty, and sacrifice—three themes that indelibly mark all those who serve in the Army and women in particular. Throughout the Army’s history women have chosen to defend their country through their service with and in the Army. Through their sense of duty to their country, women have strived to establish their place in the U.S. Army. Their sacrifice spans not only to the ultimate sacrifice but also the often overlooked ways women—and Soldiers in general—make commitments to their country that affect their personal lives.  The National Museum of the United States Army will also highlight the impact women in the Army have had both on the military and American society as a whole.