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The Fewer, The Prouder -- The History of Women in the Corps

'Free a man to fight!' This was the call for women to serve in the Marine Corps Reserve during two world wars.  Although 305 women served in the Marine Corps Reserve during World War I, all were separated from service by June 30, 1919 after the war ended. It wasn't until Feb. 13, 1943, that Gen. Thomas Holcomb, the 17th Commandant of the Marine Corps, announced the formation of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.

In 1917, countless young men volunteered for the Armed Forces, and for the first time in U.S. history, the labor potential of women became important. Pioneers like Pvt. Opha Mae Johnson, the first woman to enlist in the Marine Corps Reserve Aug. 13, 1918, paved the way for women in the Marine Corps today. During World War I, most of these women Marines, referred to as Marinettes, freed male Marines from clerical billets at Headquarters Marine Corps, enabling them to fight in France. Others filled jobs at recruiting stations across the country. Although women still didn't have the right to vote, they were willing and able to serve their country.

Twenty-five years later, the country was embroiled in another world war and women again answered the call to serve. More than 22,000 officer and enlisted women joined the Corps during World War II as part of the Women's Reserve. Women Marines in this war performed more than 200 military assignments. In addition to clerical work, they also filled positions as parachute riggers, mechanics, radio operators, mapmakers, and welders. By June 1944, women reservists made up 85 percent of the enlisted personnel on duty at Headquarters Marine Corps and almost two-thirds of the personnel manning all major posts and stations in the United States and Hawaii. At the war's end, Gen. Alexander A. Vandegrift, 18th Commandant of the Marine Corps, credited these women with "putting the 6th Marine Division in the field."

Following Japan's surrender, demobilization of the Women's Reserve proceeded rapidly, with only 1,000 remaining in the reserve by July 1946. Then Congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, which authorized the acceptance of women into the regular component of the Marine Corps and other Armed Services.

For the first time in history, the Women's Reserve was mobilized in August 1950 for the Korean War, reaching peak strength of 2,787 active-duty women Marines. Again, they stepped into stateside jobs and freed male Marines for combat duty. By the height of the Vietnam War, about 2,700 hundred active-duty women Marines served stateside and overseas. During this period, the Marine Corps began opening career-type formal training programs to women officers and advanced technical training to enlisted women. It was also during the 1970s that women Marines were assigned to Fleet Marine Force units for the first time. By 1975, women could be assigned to all occupational fields except infantry, artillery, armor and pilot/air crew.

The 1990s saw additional changes and increased responsibilities for women in the Marine Corps, including flying combat aircraft. Approximately 1,000 women Marines were deployed to Southwest Asia for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. Women have served in every rank from private to lieutenant general.

Milestones for women in the Marine Corps include:

  • Col. Margerat A. Brewer's appointment to brigadier general in 1978 made her the Corps' first woman general officer.
  • Col. Gail M. Reals was the first woman to be selected by a board of general officers for advancement to the rank of brigadier genera in 1985.
  • Brig. Gen. Carol A. Mutter became the first woman to assume command of a Fleet Marine Force unit at the flag level when she assumed command of the 3rd Force Service Support Group in Okinawa in 1992.
  • 2nd Lt. Sarah Deal became the first woman Marine selected for Naval aviation training in 1993.
    In 1994, Brig. Gen Mutter became the first woman major general in the Corps and the senior woman on active duty in the Armed Forces.
  • Lt. Gen. Mutter made history again when she became the first woman Marine to wear three stars in 1996.
  • Today, women serve in 93 percent of all occupational fields and 62 percent of all billets. Women constitute 6.2 percent of the Corps end strength and are an integral part of the Marine Corps.

The history of women in the Marine Corps is a significant part of the Corps' history.  Today's female Marines carry on that heritage.

SOURCE:  MarineLink website (


Check out the Historical Photos and Notable Women Marines pages for more interesting information on women's service in the Corps!

NOTE:  "Auld Lang Syne" is performed by "The President's Own" U.S. Marine Band.  Free downloads of this song and many others are available on the U.S. Marine Band's website,