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Women’s History Month 2021: A Look at Incredible Military Women

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black and white photo of Women's Army Auxiliary Corps


Get ready to celebrate the women in your life. 

March 1 marks the start of Women’s History Month. This year’s observance is particularly important as it’s also the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement. 

If you haven’t recently thanked a female vet for their service, there’s no better time than now.

In recent years, women have made strides in military history, too. From females graduating the grueling Army Guard ranger program to entering combat positions, military women are proving they can work just as hard as men. 

Below, we dive into the backstory of Women’s History Month and the women in military history who have made quite the mark.

How Women’s History Month Got Started

Army Pfc. completes avionics checks
(U.S. Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Matt Hecht)

Women have always held an important place in history, including in the military. It wasn’t until the 80s, however, that a formal public recognition came about.

Back in 1981, Congress passed Public Law 97-28. This request of the president asked for the week of March 7, 1982, to be declared “Women’s History Week.” President Reagan conceded and proclaimed it to be an annual event to honor women’s vital role in history. 

Several years later, the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress asking that it be changed to a month-long event instead of just a week.

In 1987, President Reagan asked the American public to use the month to honor the achievements of women. 

This month, check out your local libraries, colleges, museums, and other educational institutions for events surrounding Women’s History Month. Some military museums may even have special displays to pay tribute to women in military history.

Women in Military History Who Made a Difference 

 Bernice “Bee” Haydu
Photo by Airman 1st Class Shelby Kay-Fantozzi/27th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

From the beginning of American history, women have taken an active role in military life. 

Whether holding down the homefront in the early days as men went to war or dressing up as men to go fight on behalf of America, women have proven they’ll protect the heartland, too.

Today, women make up about 16% of the enlisted active-duty forces in the military. The Pew Research Center found that more women are increasingly taking on officer roles, too.

Military Females Who Have Made History:

  • Agent 355 – While her real identity is still unknown, this female spy took part in the Culper Ring during the American Revolution. History documents she was one of the first U.S. spies, but other than her agent number, nothing else is known about her. 
  • Cathay Williams – While she spent her early years working as a house slave, Cathay Williams felt determined to make her own history. Despite women being prohibited from joining the military, she enlisted under “William Cathay” on November 15, 1866, passing herself off as a man. During her enlistment, she contracted smallpox and ended up hospitalized. Her commanding officer received word and she was honorably discharged from service. Later, she signed on with an all-black regiment that became known as the Buffalo Soldiers.
  • Pilot Bernice “Bee” Haydu – During World War II, women served in the Air Force in what was known as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Bee served as a WASP and dedicated her time to fighting for the rights of these female vets after WASP disbanded in 1944 — leaving these women no rank or benefits. She reached out to Congress to pass a bill to grant these rights. After a first denial, the bill eventually passed in 1977, thanks to her efforts.
  • Lt. Cmdr. Marilyn Melendez Dykman – Throughout the 20th century, the military saw a spike in participation from Hispanic-American women. In 1991, Melendez Dykman switched careers from the U.S. Army and became the Coast Guard’s first Hispanic-American female aviator.
  • Lt. Susan Ahn Cuddy – Perhaps most impressive about this lieutenant was her brave decision to join the U.S. Navy when she did. Shortly after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, she enlisted as the first Asian-American woman in the Navy. Her courage didn’t stop there. Lt. Ahn Cuddy also was the first female gunnery officer. After her Navy career, she cracked codes for the Navy as an intelligence officer before joining the National Security Agency. She lived to be 100. 

Women’s History Month Shows How Women Lead 

women's history month: female pilot silhouette
Photo by Senior Airman Ashley Adkins / 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Over the course of American military history, women have proven themselves to be anything by a stereotype. As you can see from the brief list above, women contributed — and continue to contribute — in unique ways to our military’s wins.

They’ll keep raising the bar and proving their place among the ranks of men, no doubt. Two cases in point:

* Recently, one unnamed female soldier is on the path to becoming the first-ever female Green Beret. Even the Marine Corps is looking at integrating male and female training at Parris Island starting this year, leveling the playing field for those who want military careers — no matter their gender. 

During Women’s History Month, consider participating in local events and activities to learn more about the role women have played and continue to play in making history.

Here’s more inspiring content you might find interesting on women in the military: 

Want more content regarding women’s roles in the military? Send us a message and let us know what you’d like to see covered. We love hearing from our readers!

Who is your favorite military female leader? Let us know in the comments below!

Feature image courtesy of Army Signal Corps photo

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Seraine Page

Seraine Page is a freelance writer and the wife of a Navy veteran. She lives in sunny Florida and loves to write engaging content to inform, inspire and entertain the military community.