Women in the Service

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"World War I, Princeton, Massachusetts - Red Cross Volunteers." Courtesy of Princeton Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

Over 21,500 female nurses from the United States served in the course of the Great War. Beyond these roles, for the first time in history, women were allowed to join the military for duties other than nursing.

The US Navy actively recruited women for service, pulling an initial 13,000 female volunteers into their ranks. While these women served exclusively stateside, they received compensation identical to that of their male counterparts, and veterans benefits that honored their participation. In addition, another 233 American women served near the front lines in France as bilingual translators. More than 300 women served in the Marines in administrative roles, allowing men who had formerly filled those positions to take combat roles. Just as propaganda posters appealed to a masculine patriotic duty to encourage men to enlist, other advertisements were tailored specifically to women, depicting them as strong, uniformed, and, most significantly, patriotic.

Despite their service in World War I, women were not permitted to enlist in the military again until 1942, when a global conflict again called upon their service. Nevertheless, women’s involvement would motivate many to advocate for equal rights at home—namely through women’s suffrage campaigns that culminated in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920.