Uniformed Women in the Great War

Uniformed Women in the Great War

This website is based on an exhibition that was on view at the National Museum of American History from April 6, 2017 to April 28, 2019.


 

This war is being fought by women. It is women who suffer and lend courage to us. Women are the ones to whom honor will be due when the war is over, and they will deserve honor for their aid in establishing democracy.
— Gen. John J. Pershing, 1917

Even before the United States entered World War I in 1917, tens of thousands of American women donned the uniforms of private social service and religious organizations. As volunteers they served in countless ways, from supporting civilian relief efforts in war-torn Europe to running social centers for servicemen, stateside and abroad.

Thousands more women put on military uniforms. Over 20,000 volunteered for the U.S. Army and Navy Nurse Corps. Nearly 13,000 joined the ranks of the Navy and Marines for the first time—taking over office jobs that, per the popular saying, “freed a man to fight.” And 450 trained as telephone operators in the Army Signal Corps.

At the time, women in the United States were fighting for the right to vote. For many of those who wore a uniform during the war—whether civilian or military—it was a visible sign of their service to the nation. It was also a statement that their service justified their claim to full citizenship.

Woman’s Land Army of America “Farmerettes,” around 1918
Courtesy of Library of Congress

Marine Reservists (F) and Yeomen (F) with Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Washington, D.C., July 30, 1919