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Women in the Military

Remembering the Women Who Served and Died

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who have died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. Join us as we honor the women who served and who paid the ultimate price, and whose stories have far too often disappeared from history.

Women like Ellen May Tower who volunteered as a nurse during the Spanish-American War, and who contracted typhoid fever while treating wounded and sick soldiers in Puerto Rico and died on December 9, 1898. Or women like Clara Ayres and Helen Burnett Wood, US Army nurses who died on May 17, 1917, following an accident on board USS Mongolia.

We will pause to honor the nearly 400 women serving as military nurses during World War I who died on US soil during the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1918 when it swept through crowded military camps, hospitals, and ports of embarkation, many of whom contacted the illness while treating sick soldiers.

As women's involvement in the military has expanded, more women have put themselves in the path of danger in their service to country. Of the approximately 400,000 U.S. women who served with the armed forces during World War II, as many as 543 died in war-related incidents, including 16 from enemy fire and 38 brave Women's Airforce Service Pilots who crashed.

But this weekend, while we honor these women whose service was recorded, we will also remember the countless women who were unable to serve in any official capacity, but who still volunteered for civilian service and put themselves at risk. Women who served as spies or cared for soldiers or served in any way they could, including disguising themselves as men to fight, and die for their country.

Why Women's Military History is Important

One of the important organizations working to honor these women and preserve their stories is The Women's Memorial.

The Women In Military Service For America Memorial, at the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, was dedicated on October 18, 1997, and is the only major national memorial honoring all women who have defended America throughout history. Their patriotism and bravery are a part of our nation’s heritage and are now recognized.

You can read more about the importance of remembering the women who served in the military in our article "Why Women's History is Important" which was printed in Homeland Magazine for Women's History Month, March 2019.

Patriotism and the desire to serve one’s country in times of conflict have never been limited to men. American women have taken up the cause in one capacity or another since the Revolutionary War. And while the door to official military service may have been closed to many of them, women have always found a way to contribute. Some, such as Deborah Sampson or Cathay Williams, disguised themselves as men to fight. Others, like Molly Pitcher, served in an unofficial role, helping where they were needed.

From The National Women's History Alliance

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