Female warriors earn place in history

20 Mar 2001 | Lance Cpl. Charles W. Palmer IV

From administrative clerks to automobile mechanics and parachute riggers, women have served proudly in Marine Corps history.

Today, women Marines are found in nearly every clime and place, including combat elements such as Marine Expeditionary Units and aviation squadrons, but this wasn't always the case.

Initially, female Marines trained at separate facilities from their male counterparts, but by July 1943, recruit training and military occupational specialty schools were transferred here. 

More than 200 job categories were opened to women, including auto and airplane mechanics, drivers, parachute riggers, teletype and keypunch operators.

Many were assigned to administrative functions working at headquarters or in personnel, supply and public information, while others trained to parachute from planes and operate anti-aircraft guns.

As new opportunities arose, leaders were needed to command the growing number of women Marines.

Major Ruth Cheney Streeter of Morristown, N.J., became the first director of the United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve (USMCWR) after Gen. Thomas Holcomb, 17th Commandant, approved its formation in 1942. Within three years, Streeter achieved the grade of colonel prior to resigning her commission.

At the end of the World War II, two-thirds of the Women Reserves were separated or transferred to inactive status as part of the postwar demobilization. However, the Corps retained a small nucleus of trained women in reserve status until 1948 when congress passed the Women's Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625), which authorized the acceptance of women into active duty. This law stipulated women could not exceed 2 percent of total service strength or hold permanent rank above lieutenant colonel, except the Director of Women Marines who would hold the temporary rank of colonel.

The new law called for many changes in how and where women were trained.

Within a year, the 3rd Recruit Training Battalion was formed at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, S.C., with Capt. Margaret M. Henderson as the first commanding officer. The Women Officers' Training Class was established at Marine Corps Schools, Quantico, in June 1949, under the command of Capt. Elsie E. Hill.

Congress approved an increase to the number of active-duty female Marines during the Vietnam War. By 1968, their numbers reached 2,700, and their career opportunities expanded.

From 1965 to 1973, women Marines carried out an increasing variety of duties both stateside and overseas. The Corps began offering career-type, formal training programs to women officers and advanced technical training to enlisted women.

In 1974, the commandant approved a change in policy permitting the assignment of women to specified rear echelon elements of the Fleet Marine Force, but they could not deploy with assault units or units likely to become engaged in combat.  By 1975, the Marine Corps approved the assignment of women to all occupational fields except infantry, artillery, armor and pilot/air crew.

Restrictions on women's assignments were reduced Oct. 1, 1994 to only units whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.

Today, women in the Corps have almost as many opportunities as men do, and they work and train alongside their male counterparts.

"I have to lift bags of mail just as big as the males in my shop," said Philadelphia's Lance Cpl. Kelli Augustine, a postal clerk, Headquarters and Support Battalion, Marine Corps Base.

"There's no difference working with a male or a female," said Pfc. Christopher D. Craft of Bradley, Ill., Marine integrated maintenance management systems clerk, HqSpt Bn., MCB, who works along-side female Marines. "A Marine is a Marine."