Celebrating 100 Years of Women in the USMC

August 7, 2018

US Marines PFC. Cristina Fuentes Montenegro (Center Left) and PFC. Julia R. Carroll (Center Right) of Delta Company, Infantry Training Battalion, School of Infantry - East (SOI-E), stand at parade rest during their graduation ceremony from SOI-E at Camp Geiger, N.C.

DoD photo by LCpl. Nicholas J. Trager, U.S. Marine Corps


Beginning of a New Era


The United States Marine Corps (USMC) has a long and storied past with many milestones along the way. One major milestone came 100 years ago on August 13, 1918, when Opha Mae Johnson swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, becoming the first female to enlist in the Marine Corps.


With her enlistment in the USMC, she paved the way for thousands of proud women who followed in her footsteps to serve the most elite branch of the US Armed Forces. Since then there have been numerous events that highlight the importance of women in the Marine Corps.


World Wars


After Johnson’s enlistment, 305 women enlisted over the course of World War I.

Over 20 years later, roughly 1,000 officers and 18,000 enlisted women served during World War II, led by Col Ruth C. Streeter. During the last year of the war, all available male Marines were battling the Japanese in the Pacific. In their absence, Women Marines represented over half of the personnel at Marine Corps bases in the continental United States.


Cpl. Barbara Cogburn, primary marksmanship instructor (PMI) with Weapons and Field Training Battalion, Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, assists a Marine during a rifle qualification at Edson Range on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, 1985. 
Courtesy photo by Sgt. Shellie Hall


Women’s Armed Services Integration Act (The Game Changer)


At the start of the Cold War, the nation began to change its policy about women service members. In 1948, the Navy pressed Congress into fully integrating women into service to eliminate the cycle of mobilizing women during times of crisis and cutting back between the war years. 


The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 gave women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Marines. Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter was named the first Director of Women Marine Reservists.


Women in the Marine Corps are not only known for the barriers they broke down, but also for acts of bravery. In 1953 Staff Sergeant Barbara Olive Barnwell became the first female to be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for saving a fellow Marine from drowning in the Atlantic Ocean.


Increased Enlistment


Both the Korean War and Vietnam War saw approximately 2,700 women serve in the USMC. In 1967, Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky became the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam. 


From 1975 onward, women were assigned to all fields except infantry, artillery, armor, pilots, and aircrews. In 1990, approximately 1,000 women Marines were deployed in the First Gulf War to serve in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.


A Diversified Unit


In 1949, the first African-American woman enlisted in the Marine Corps. 


Annie E. Graham of Detroit, Michigan was the first to enlist and the next day in New York City, Anne E. Lamb became the second. Both women reported to Parris Island on September 10, 1949, and went through boot camp together and were eventually stationed together at Headquarters Marine Corps. 


US Marine Corps recruits with Platoon 4038, Papa Company, 4th Recruit Training Battalion, execute pull-ups during their Initial Strength Test on Parris Island.

US Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley


In 1965, Rose Franco became the first Hispanic woman to be promoted to Chief Warrant Officer.


According to a former Marine, the Marine Corps is powerful because of its diversity which is a force multiplier. A diverse military workforce brings people together with different backgrounds and experiences. Those differences allow them to adapt more easily in times of crisis. 


Achievements That Stand Out


Leadership roles are not uncommon for female Marines throughout history. There have been many high ranking female Marines over the years but there are a few that stand out specifically. 


In 1953, Ruth Wood and Lillian Hartley were the first women to enter the warrant officer program. In 1960, Geraldine M. Moran became the first female Marine to be promoted to Master Gunnery Sergeant. A year later Bertha Peters Billeb became the first female Marine to be promoted to Sergeant Major.


A Marine from a female engagement team teaches U.S. and Romanian soldiers how to execute Marine Corps martial arts techniques in Mihail Kogălniceanu, Romania, Sept. 29, 2016. The Marines spent two weeks conducting nonlethal training and military-to-military and military-to-civilian engagements.

Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Kyle C. Talbot


The year 1993 saw a significant milestone when 2nd Lt. Sarah Deal became the first female Marine to be selected for naval aviation training.


Sergeant Julia Watson, in 1998, became the first and only woman to win the National Individual Trophy (Daniel Boone Trophy) for rifle marksmanship since the competition began in 1902. She also won the NRA Service Rifle Championships three times while on active duty and is currently the only woman to have won the competition. 

Also, Chief Warrant Officer Roxanne Conrad (Ret.) was the first woman ever to earn the International Distinguished Shooting Badge which is the highest shooting badge a Marine can wear out of the 52.

This year, Marine Corps Col. Lorna Mahlock was nominated to serve as the first black female brigadier general by Defense Secretary, James Mattis.

Recent Developments

Recently, female Marines have seen their roles expand significantly because the Marine Corps  opened up all combat arms career fields to women. Although there are more opportunities, women still make up a very small percentage of these jobs, as well as the Marine Corps as a whole. 


US Marine Pfc. Kira Kozik, the first female Marine student to check in to School of Infantry – West, stands in line to turn in her medical records on Camp Pendleton, March 6, 2018. This marks the first male-female integrated Marine Combat Training company on the West Coast.

US Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Kerstin Roberts


There are approximately 14,000 female Marines who make up about 7% of the USMC today. In the last five years alone, female Marines have attended infantry training, both enlisted and officers, and have attended the School of Infantry on the west coast. 

The year 2018 marks the centennial of women in the Corps. The history of women in the Marine Corps is full of broken barriers and major accomplishments. There are undoubtedly many more accomplishments to come as the female Marines of today continue to build upon the foundation and legacy of their predecessors.


Disclaimer: The appearance of US Department of Defense (DoD) visual information on this website does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. 





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