Women have been serving in the military in one capacity or another since the Revolutionary War; Molly Pitcher cooled down canons during that time. However, it wasn't until World War II that women gained recognition as full-fledged members of the military. WWII was a turning point for women in military service. This was the time when we saw the Women's Air Service Pilots (WASPs), Women's Army Corps, and the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service.
WWII saw nearly half a million women in uniform in both theaters of conflict during that time. The valuable role women played during the war, along with President Truman's determination to make changes within the military, led to the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. With this act, for the first time, women were recognized as full members of the Armed Services. This meant they could finally claim the same benefits as their male counterparts. This also made it so those women who chose to do so, could make a career in the Army or Navy.
During the Korean and Vietnam Wars, there were tens of thousands of women who volunteered for service. Many of them were nurses. However, they also made great strides among all of the military branches, donning both Marine and Air Force uniforms to serve alongside those already serving in the Army and Navy.
During the 1960s in Post-Vietnam America, great social changes were made throughout the nation. Many of those changes were driven and led by women. The Women's Rights Movement not only fought for equality in the workplace, carved out places for women in the political arena, and opened up new opportunities in higher education, but it also led to changes for women in the military. One of the biggest changes in the treatment of women in the military during this time was giving them the opportunity to attend the service academies. Opening these academies to women was pivotal for the treatment of women in the military because, for the first time, they were allowed to obtain officer status in the ranks. This then placed them in positions of leadership and authority throughout all the branches.
The 1990s began with the Gulf War. During this time, female military members distinguished themselves. For the first time, women won the right to serve as combat pilots during the war. By the end of the decade, women were serving on combat ships and flying warplanes from carrier ships. However, in 1994, these female service members did suffer a bit of a setback when the Secretary of Defense refused to allow them to serve in units whose primary mission was ground combat.
With the 21st century, women saw even greater strides in their opportunities in service. Colonel Linda McTague became the first female commander of a fighter squadron, and women in the Army and Marines began to edge closer to being able to serve in full combat duty. In 2013 the ban on women in combat was finally lifted, and the branches were given two years to comply with full integration. By 2015 two women completed Army Ranger school, which led to the decree that all combat duties should be open to women as well.
The past few years have seen women gaining advancement to some of the highest levels of authority in the military. They have also been given the opportunity to complete elite training courses, along with Ranger school, women have been allowed to enter the ever difficult Navy SEAL officer training courses. One thing is for certain, women in the military have come a long way since World War II, and it is definite that they will continue to be seen and heard in their ever growing-roles in all of the branches of the U.S. military.