Women’s History Month – Women and War
The summer after I graduated from the police academy I was asked to give a speech for our city’s July 4th celebration about women in service to our country. I was honored. Through my research I was amazed with the history of women fighting for the United States and serving our country. For National Women’s History Month I would like to share my speech and the wonderful brave women I discovered.
“Women are not the weak, frail little flowers that they are advertised. There has never been anything invented yet, including war, that a man would enter into, that a woman wouldn’t, too.” –Will Rogers
Long before great women such as Alice Paul and Lucy Burns fought for the right for women to vote, women were fighting in wars. The fight wasn’t about equal rights or even voting rights, it was about protecting our children and homes. The fight was about defending our country.
There were many women that made a difference in the revolutionary war. From nursing our soldiers to spying on the English, women left their mark and even fought beside men. It wasn’t easy. Females were not allowed on the front line. So a disguise was required.
There are many stories of women dressing as men and joining the regiments, none as famous as Deborah Samson from Massachusetts. In 1778 Deborah disguised herself as a young man, named Robert Shirtliffe and presented herself to the American Army and served undetected for a year and a half. Deborah was wounded twice before she was discharged.
This trend continued into the Civil War. Francis Day briefly served as Sgt. Frank Mayne. In the spring of 1863 Sgt. Mayne was grievously wounded and her identity was revealed. She died from her wounds.
One of the more touching stories was of a woman known only as Emily. At the age of 19 Emily ran away from home and joined the drum corps of a Michigan Regiment. The regiment was sent to Tennessee and during the struggle for Chatanooga, Emily was shot in the side. Her wound was fatal and her sex was disclosed. As Emily lay dying she dictated a telegram to her father in Brooklyn.
“Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country but the fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray forgive me.” — Emily
In World War I over 30,000 women served in the Army, Navy, Navy Nurse Corps, the Marines, and the Coast Guard. At least 359 servicewomen died and none of these women yet had the right to vote.
During World War II the first class of Woman Air Force Service Pilots (WASP) graduated on December 17, 1943. The women had to pay their own way through the training program in Texas. A total of 1074 women graduated the program over the next few years and all at their own expense. These women flew over 60 million miles in operations. Thirty-eight WASP died in training or in the line of duty. A total of 543 World War II servicewomen gave their lives.
Over 265,000 women served in the armed forces during the Vietnam War. Approximately 10,000 served in uniform “in country” during the conflict. All were volunteers as women were not subject to the draft. Eight women’s names appear at the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial. Lieutenant Colonel Annie Graham is one of those names. Lieutenant Colonel Graham was a veteran of World War II and The Korean War.
Eleanor Ardel Vietti, a civilian surgeon and missionary was captured by Vietcong forces in Ban Me Thuot on May 30, 1962. Her remains have never been found. Eleanor is still listed as missing in action. Betty Ann Olsen was captured in 1968 during the Tet Offensive. She died and was buried along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Her body was never recovered.
More than sixty civilian women gave their lives during the Vietnam War. Due to the type of gorilla warfare tactics prevalent in the war, women were not just on the front lines they were often times surrounded by the enemy.
Operation Desert Shield and Storm saw the largest deployment of military women in U.S. history. Over 40,000 women were called to duty in Iraq. Sixteen women died and two were captured as prisoners of war.
Updated since my speech in 2007
Currently in Afghanistan and Iraq over 130 U.S. military servicewomen have given their lives for our country. Women make up 16% of our U.S. armed forces. Like Vietnam, there are no definitive front lines and women are in the middle of the conflicts even if delivering supplies. These women have one thing in common with their fellow male counterparts; they carry weapons and know how to use them.
This year six female police officers have given their lives in the line of duty. The first Law Enforcement death of the year was Deputy Sheriff Suzanne Hopper. Deputy Hopper was 40-years-old and had served twelve years with her department. There are currently over 110,000 female Police Officers serving in the U.S. and over 9,700 women Firefighters.
While researching my Independence Day speech I searched for quotes to exemplify the role of women in service to our country. I found very few though two struck me as needing to be mentioned.
“To tell a woman everything she may not do is to tell her what she can do.” –Spanish Proverb
“War is not women’s history.” –Virginia Woolf
I leave you with my rebuttal to this last quote.
“Where ever there is war, there are women. We mend the wounded, mourn the dead and tend the home fires of both the winners and the losers. Even when we are a part of the fight we are all but forgotten. War is women’s history. Women are just the part not told.” –Suzie Ivy