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Notable Women Marines - The Early Years

From "freeing a Marine to fight" to serving alongside brother Marines fighting America's war on terrorism, women Marines have come a long way.  Please take a moment to read more about some of the most noteworthy women who have served in the Corps.  This page highlights Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter, Colonel Katherine A. Towle, Colonel Julia E. Hamblet, Colonel Margaret A. Henderson, Colonel Barbara J. Bishop, and Colonel Jeanette I. Sustad -- six women who steered the early course of the Women's Reserve and Women Marines.

 

Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter USMCWR

COLONEL RUTH CHENEY STREETER
COLONEL
RUTH CHENEY STREETER, USMCWR
(DECEASED)

Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter, the first Director of the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve, died 30 September 1990 in Morristown, New Jersey. She earned the Legion of Merit for "outstanding services" during World War II and served from the time the Women's Reserve was activated on 13 February 1943, until 7 December 1945, when she resigned her commission.

The colonel was awarded the Legion of Merit on 4 February 1946. The accompanying citation states in part: "Exercising judgment, initiative and ability, Colonel Streeter rendered distinctive service in directing the planning and organization of the Women's Reserve of the Marine Corps and skillfully integrating women into the basic structure of the Corps, carefully selected, trained and properly assigned them as replacements for men in shore establishments."

Born 2 October 1895 at Brookline, Massachusetts, Colonel Streeter attended schools abroad and graduated from Bryn Mawr College at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, in 1918. During the depression years following 1930, she worked in public health and welfare, unemployment relief and old-age assistance in her home state of New Jersey. She was one-time President of the Welfare Board in Morris County, New Jersey. She also served as a member of the New Jersey State Relief Council, New Jersey Commission of Inter-State Cooperation, and New Jersey Board of Children's Guardians.

Long interested in aviation, the colonel completed a course in aeronautics at New York University and served as adjutant of Group 221, Civil Air Patrol. She learned to fly in 1940 and in 1941 became the only woman member of the Committee on Aviation of the New Jersey Defense Council. The same year she also acted as chairman of the Citizen's Committee for Army and Navy, Inc., for Fort Dix, New Jersey. She received her commercial pilot's license in April 1942.

Colonel Streeter was the first woman to hold the rank of major in the Marine Corps. She was appointed to that rank on 29 January 1943. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel on 22 November 1943, and to the rank of colonel 1 February 1944.

When Colonel Streeter left the Marine Corps in December, 1945, General A.A. Vandegrift then Commandant of the Marine Corps, wrote her a commendatory letter, which is quoted in part:

"...It is with deep regret that I contemplate your leaving, and I cannot let the occasion pass without conveying to you some expression of my admiration and appreciation of your outstanding service as Director of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve from its inception in January 1943 until the present time.

"Over that period, the Marine Corps Women's Reserve grew in size to a maximum strength of 831 officers and 17,714 enlisted. It set a standard of excellence which, in my opinion, could not have been excelled and would be difficult to equal."

Colonel Streeter is joint donor with her mother of the Cheney Award, given annually to some member of the United States Air Force for "acts of valor or extreme fortitude or self-sacrifice." The award commemorates the memory of Lieutenant William H. Cheney, the colonel's brother, who was killed in an aviation accident in World War II.

In addition to the Legion of Merit, Colonel Streeter's medals include the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.

Source:  History & Museums Division, USMC

 

Colonel Margaret A. Henderson USMC (Ret.)

Colonel Margaret Monroe HendersonCOLONEL
MARGARET M. HENDERSON, USMC
(RETIRED)

Colonel Margaret Monroe Henderson served as Director of Women Marines from
2 March 1959 until 2 January 1964. The Legion of Merit was awarded her upon retirement, 31 January 1966, “for exceptionally meritorious performance of outstanding services as planner, administrator, and leader of Women Marines throughout a distinguished career.”

Colonel Henderson was born on 6 February 1911 in Cameron, Texas. She was graduated from high school at Kenedy, Texas, in 1928, and received her BA degree upon graduation from the University of Texas in 1932. She then taught in secondary schools of Lubbock, Texas, until the spring of 1943 when she entered the Marine Corps.

After completing the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Officer Training School at Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts, she was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Women’s Reserve on 30 June 1943. During World War II, she served as an instructor at Women Marine Schools, Camp Lejeune, and as Officer in Charge of the Business School, Marine Corps Institute, Washington. D.C. Returning to Camp Lejeune in September 1945, she became Executive Officer of the Women’s Reserve Battalion.

Detached from active duty in May 1946, Colonel Henderson returned to Lubbock, where she served as an instructor at Texas Technological College for two years. In November 1948, she was integrated into the regular Marine Corps and returned to active duty, with the passage of the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act. At this same time, the Women’s Reserve received the title of Women Marines.

During subsequent tours of duty, she served consecutively as Commander of the Women’s Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina; Head, Women’s Affairs Section, Division of Plans and Policies, Headquarters Marine Corps; and Commander of the Women Officers Training Detachment, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel in January 1953.

From January 1955 to March 1957, Colonel Henderson served as Assistant G-1, at the Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California. In April 1957, she was assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps as Head, Women Affairs Section, G-1 Division.

On 2 March 1959, she assumed duty as Director of Women Marines, with the rank of colonel. Upon assuming this post, Colonel Henderson became the third Director of Women Marines, succeeding Colonels Katherine A. Towle (1948-53), and Julia E. Hamblet (1953-59). Prior to this, there were three Directors of the Women’s Reserve, Colonels Ruth Cheney Streeter (1943-45), Katherine A. Towle (1945-46), and Julia E. Hamblet (1946-48).

From January 1964 until her retirement, Colonel Henderson served as Assistant G-1 (Personnel), Marine Corps Recruit Depot, San Diego. She was placed on the retired list with the rank of colonel, the rank she held as Director of Women Marines.

Source:  History & Museums Division, USMC


 

Colonel Katherine A. Towle USMC (Ret.)

Colonel Katherine A. Towle
COLONEL
KATHERINE A. TOWLE, USMC
(DECEASED)

Colonel Katherine A. Towle, second Director of the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and first Director of Women Marines, died 2 March 1986 at her home in California at the age of 87. She originally came to the Marine Corps from the campus of the University of California at Berkeley.

In her first assignment with the new women’s component, she was named WR representative for Recruit Depot, with the rank of Captain, USMCWR, even before public announcement of the establishment of the Women’s Reserve on 13 February 1943.

Colonel Towle was named Director when her predecessor, Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter, retired on 7 December 1945. She served in that capacity until June 1946. In August of the same year, when the Women’s Reserve was deactivated, Colonel Towle returned to the University of California as assistant dean of women.

Again, after the Congress had authorized the acceptance of women into the Regular Armed Services, the Marine Corps called upon Colonel Towle to direct this organization. On 4 November 1948, she returned to the Corps to become the first Director of Women Marines after they were constituted a Regular Component. She served as Director until her retirement on 30 April 1953.

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Colonel Towle was associated with the University of California at Berkeley in various capacities: as Dean of Women from 1953 to 1960; as Assistant Dean of Students from 1960 to 1965; as Dean of Students, 1965 to 1966; and later as Dean of Students, Emeritus.

Her military awards include the Legion of Merit and the Navy Commendation Medal.

Source:  History & Museums Division, USMC

 

Colonel Barbara J. Bishop USMC (Ret.)

Colonel Barbara Janet Bishop 
COLONEL
BARBARA J. BISHOP, USMC
(RETIRED)

Colonel Barbara Janet Bishop, who had assumed her assignment as Director of Women Marines on 3 January 1964, retired in August 1969 during ceremonies held in the office of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Leonard F. Chapman, Jr. Prior to this assignment, she completed a tour of duty in Naples, Italy, as Military Secretary to the Commander in Chief, Allied Forces, Southern Europe.

Colonel Bishop was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on 2 October 1920. She received her early schooling in Everett, Massachusetts, graduating with honors from Everett High School in 1938. Throughout her high school years she was a student of art, attending the Scott Carbee School of Art evenings, and during summer vacations studied landscape painting. In September 1938, she entered Yale University where she completed a six-year course in five years, and was awarded a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Art, 30 January 1943.

Later, after serving on active duty with the Marine Corps from 1943 to 1946, Colonel Bishop earned her Master of Arts Degree at the University of Chicago from September 1946 to June 1948. She accomplished her thesis on five Florentine Cassone panels exhibited in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and was working on her doctorate when she was recalled to active duty by the Marine Corps in 1948.

Colonel Bishop began her Marine Corps career by enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve on 18 February 1943 at Boston. She was assigned to active duty on 10 April 1943, reporting as a private to the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Officer Candidates’ Class at the U.S. Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (WR), at Northampton, Massachusetts. She was appointed a Cadet in the Women’s Reserve on 4 May 1943, and 1 June of that year, was commissioned a Marine Reserve second lieutenant.

She was thereupon assigned as a detachment officer with the Marine Training Detachment at the U.S. Naval Training School, University of Indiana at Bloomington. From October 1943 through March 1945, she was attached to the Marine Aviation Detachment at the Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia, as an administrative officer. In April 1945, she joined Aviation Women’s Reserve Squadron 21 at the Marine Corps Air Station, Quantico, Virginia, serving as Squadron Executive Officer and Commanding Officer, respectively, until February 1946. She then served with the Division of Aviation at Headquarters Marine Corps as Officer in Charge of Secret and Confidential Files until she was assigned to an inactive duty status, 10 September 1946, with the rank of captain in the Women’s Reserve.

With the passage of the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act in 1948, a transfer of personnel to a “regular” status was effected and, at the same time, the Women’s Reserve received the title of Women Marines. Colonel Bishop was recalled to active duty while an graduate student at the University of Chicago in November 1948, and reported for active duty and was commissioned a captain in the Women Marines, 7 December 1948. Assigned to Headquarters Marine Corps, she assumed duty as Officer in Charge, Secret and Confidential Files, Division of Plans and Policies. While there, she was promoted to major in February 1951.

In February 1952, she was transferred to Hawaii where she served in the same capacity at Headquarters, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, until September 1953. On her return to the continental United States, she served as Commanding Officer, Women Marine Company, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. She was promoted to her permanent rank of lieutenant colonel in February 1955 with rank from January 1954.

Colonel Bishop returned to Headquarters Marine Corps in May 1955 to serve as Head, Women’s Branch, Division of Reserve, with additional duty as Deputy Director of Women Marines. From October 1956 through July 1959, she was assigned as Commanding Officer, Women’s Recruit Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. During this assignment, she was cited for exemplary performance of duty in a letter of appreciation by the Commanding General of the Recruit Training Command.

In August 1959, she was named Assistant G-1, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico. She served in this capacity through February 1962, and the following month reported for duty in Europe as Military Secretary to the Commander in Chief, Allied Forces, Southern Europe, Naples, Italy. On 3 January 1964, on assuming her new duties as Director of Women Marines, she was promoted to the temporary rank of colonel.

Upon assuming her new post, Colonel Bishop became the fourth Director of Women Marines, succeeding Colonels Katherine A. Towle (1948-53), Julia E. Hamblet (1953-59), and Margaret M. Henderson (1959-64). Prior to this, there were three directors of the Women’s Reserve, Colonels Ruth Cheney Streeter (1943-45), Katherine A. Towle (1945-46), and Julia E. Hamblet (1946-48).

Source:  History & Museums Division, USMC

 

Colonel Julia E. Hamblet USMC (Ret.)

Colonel Julia E. HambletCOLONEL
JULIA E. HAMBLET, USMC
(RETIRED)

Colonel Julia E. Hamblet, who served two separate tours of duty as Director of Women Marines, retired from active service, 1 May 1965, with the rank of colonel. She was awarded the Legion of Merit upon retirement for “outstanding service as planner, administrator and leader of Women Marines throughout a distinguished career which encompassed every major assignment in the women’s program.”

Colonel Hamblet served as Director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve from 1946 to 1948; and as Director of Women Marines from 1953 to 1959.

She was born in Winchester, Massachusetts, on 12 May 1916, the daughter of Able and Marcia Coburn Hamblet. After attending the Hartridge School, Plainfield, New Jersey, she entered Vassar, graduating in 1937 with a B.A. degree. She obtained her Master’s degree in Public Administration at Ohio State University in 1951.

From 1937 until 1943, she served with the U.S. Information Service in Washington, D.C. In April 1943, she entered the Marine Corps and was assigned to the first Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Officer Training Class at Mt. Holyoke, Massachusetts. On completing the course, she was commissioned a first lieutenant in the Women’s Reserve, 4 May 1943. She was then selected as adjutant to Colonel Katherine A. Towle (then a captain), at the Women’s Recruit Training Center at Hunter College in New York.

During subsequent tours of duty, Colonel Hamblet served at Marine bases in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Camp Pendleton, California; and Quantico, Virginia. Before the end of World War II, she was commanding Aviation Women’s Reserve Group I, numbering some 2,600 women, at the Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina. For her service during this period, she was awarded a Letter of Commendation with Commendation Ribbon.

Colonel Hamblet was released from active duty in July 1946, but after two months was recalled to Headquarters Marine Corps, Washington, D.C., as a major, to serve as the third Director of the Women’s Reserve, from September 1946 to November 1948, succeeding Colonel Towle.

Following demobilization, the ranks of the Women’s Reserve dwindled to 8 officers and 159 enlisted. With the passage of the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act in 1948, a transfer of personnel into the regular components of the Marine Corps with the title of Women Marines was effected. Colonel Hamblet thereupon accepted a regular commission as a major in the Women Marines on 4 November 1948. On 24 August 1949, she was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

In 1951, after completing graduate work at Ohio State University, she was assigned to the Staff of the Commander, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, with headquarters in Hawaii. The following year, she was named Officer in Charge of the Women Officers Training Detachment, Marine Corps Schools, Quantico.

On 1 May 1953, she assumed duty as Director of Women Marines, again succeeding Colonel Towle who was retiring. The post carried with it the rank of colonel, and Colonel Hamblet continued to served in that capacity when her four year tour of duty was extended to 1 March 1959. Later in March, she was assigned duty in Naples, Italy, as Military Secretary to the Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces, Southern Europe.

In May 1962, on her return from Italy, Colonel Hamblet reported to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, as Commanding Officer, Women’s Recruit Training Battalion, and served in this capacity until her retirement three years later.

Source:  History & Museums Division, USMC

Colonel Jeanette I. Sustad USMC (Ret.)

Colonel Jeanette I. SustadCOLONEL
JEANETTE I. SUSTAD, USMC
(DECEASED)

Colonel Jeanette I. Sustad, sixth Director of Women Marines, who retired from active duty on 31 January 1973, died on 5 February 1978. She had received the Legion of Merit from the Commandant of the Marine Corps, in retirement ceremonies held at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., for exceptionally meritorious performance of outstanding service as Director of Women Marines from February 1969 through January 1973.

Born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she moved with her parents at an early age to Tacoma, Washington. She graduated from Stadium High School in Tacoma, and earned a B.A. degree in sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1943.

Colonel Sustad joined the Marine Corps on 8 May 1943, just three months after the Marine Corps began to accept women for enlistment in the new Women’s Reserve Program. She received officer training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and was commissioned a Reserve second lieutenant on 27 December 1943. Her first assignment was as Field Operations Officer at the Marine Corps Auxiliary Air Facility, Oak Grove, North Carolina. In May 1945, she was assigned as Communications Watch Officer at the Marine Corps Air Station, Oahu, Hawaii, and served in that capacity until she was assigned to inactive duty status in December 1945.

Following demobilization, she spent a year in graduate study at the University of Minnesota and was employed as a Veterans Counselor by the U.S. Employment Services in Tacoma, Washington.

Upon passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948, she accepted a regular commission as a first lieutenant in the Marine Corps and reported to Headquarters Marine Corps in December 1948.

Transferred to Parris Island, South Carolina, in January 1949, she served as Executive Officer of the newly-formed Women’s Recruit Training Battalion. She was promoted to captain in August 1949. From May 1950 until July 1950, she served as Executive Officer, Women Officers Training Detachment, Quantico, Virginia.

From that assignment, Captain Sustad became Adjutant of Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, California, and upon activation of the first post-World War II Women Marine Company at Camp Pendleton, she became its Commanding Officer, serving in this capacity until August 1952.

Captain Sustad was then named Monitor in the Staff Message Control Branch, Headquarters, United States European Command, Frankfurt, Germany. After her promotion to major in July 1953, she became Assistant Head of the Branch. In the spring of 1954, the Headquarters was moved to Paris, France, and Major Sustad continued her assignment there.

Upon her return to the United States in September 1954, she subsequently served as Executive Officer of the Women’s Recruit Training Battalion, Parris Island, followed by tours as Officer in Charge of Procurement Aids Branch, Headquarters, 9th Marine Corps District, Chicago, Illinois; Assistant to the Executive Officer and Plans Officer, G-1 Division, Headquarters Marine Corps; and as Operations Officer of the Marine Corps Educational Center, Quantico. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel in September 1962 while stationed at Headquarters Marine Corps.

LtCol Sustad became the first full-time Deputy Director of Women Marines in July 1965, and served in this capacity until November 1967. From December 1967 to January 1969, she served as Assistant G-1, Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton. She was promoted to her final rank on 11 April 1968.

Source:  History & Museums Division, USMC