In the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, women often fought disguised as men. During World War I, women were finally accepted by the Navy, the Marines, and the Coast Guard. The Army, however, only admitted women to serve in the Nurses Corps. Several thousand women also served as drivers, secretaries, clerks, and telephone operators during World War I, but they worked under civilian contracts, and were not officially in the Army.
When World War II broke out, women were desperately needed by the Army to fill important administrative jobs in order to release men for combat. All branches of the armed forces conducted massive publicity campaigns urging womne to volunteer and
Free a Man to Fight. In addition, the Army and Navy Nurses Corps heavily recruited civilian nurses to meet their own expanding needs.
In all of America's wars, nurses have worked near the front lines of battle. Under frequent enemy fire in field hospitals, evacuation hospitals, hospital trains, hospital ships and medical transport planes, military nurses in wartime are faced with daily situations of grave danger.
Military nurses are involved in a broad range of activities. They are expected to adopt innovative solutions to a broad range of medical problems with limited support, to move and set up field and evacuation hospitals amidst enemy fire, and to teach and supervise new trainees and medical personnel to save lives under dire circumstances.
The work of the following women encompasses the many tasks assumed by military nurses throughout the last 150 years:
- Phoebe Yates Levy Pember [Civil War]
- Ethel Gladstone [WWI]
- Yetta Moskowitz [WWII]
- Frances Slanger [WWII]
- Gertrude Shapiro [WWII]
- Marita Silverman [Vietnam}
In May 1941, a bill was introduced in Congress to create the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The bill languished for several months until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor [December 7, 1941] signaled the need for a dramatic mobilization effort. On May 14, 1942, The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was officially established.
From the outset, the WAAC was beset with problems: Not officially part of the Army, WAAC's did the same jobs as soldiers but did not receive the same pay, rank, legal protections, injury benefits, or other military entitlements. While women were anxious to serve their country, these inequities severely inhibited the Army's ability to recruit. By the spring of 1943, many WAAC training facilities were sitting idle.
In July1943, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the establishment of the Women's Army Corps with full military status. In the ensuing months, thousands of American women - Jew and Gentile alike - answered the call to serve. By the war's end, the glowing record of achievement and dedicated contributions toward victory on behalf of America's women motivated President Harry Truman to establish the WACS as a permanent part of the United States Army and Reserve.
Twelve Jewish American women were included among the first graduating class of WAAC officers at Fort Des Moines, Iowa on Augus 29, 1942. Other women active in these corps include:
The history of women serving in the United States Navy began in the Civil War when nuns of the Roman Catholic religious orders came aboard hospital ships to assist the wounded. While the first trained nurses served in the Navy during the Spanish-American War, it was not until 1908 that the Navy Nurse Corps was officially established and produced over 12,000 women who served during World War I. The Navy
WAVES or Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service force was officially established on July 30, 1942. The WAVES were created to initiate a rapid buildup of Navy personnel at the outset of WWII to address an acute shortage of manpower. With the establishment of a women's reserve force, Congress hoped to enlist a total of 10,000 women and 1,000 officers to aid in the war effort.
Women in the Navy have included:
- Bernice Sains Freid [WWII]
- Bebe Koch [WWII]
- Miriam "Mimi" Miller [WWII]
- Miranda Bloch [WWII]
- Cindy Gats [Desert Storm]
Of all the branches of the armed forces, the Air Force has been, from the beginning, the most receptive toward recruiting women.
In World War II, the Army Air Force recruited an astounding 40 percent of all women in the armed forces! Under the AAF, women were assigned to highly responsible positions including jobs as weather observers and forecasters, cryptographers, radio operators and repairmen, sheet metal workers, parachute riggers, link trainer instructors, bombsight maintenance specialists, aerial photograph analysts and control tower operators. WACS in the AAF were also assigned flying duties.
In today's Air Force, women regularly pilot bomber planes and are permitted to engage in strategic air strikes.
In 1984, Reconstructionist Rabbi Bonnie Koppell became the first woman officially endorsed as a chaplain in the United States military while she was serving in the Army reserves. It was not until 1992, however, that the late Rabbi Chana Timoner was appointed the first full time active duty female chaplain in the United States military. Rabbi Sarah Schechter is the first, and currently only, female rabbi chaplain serving in the Air Force.