Timeline: Women in the Military

Woman Soldier with American Flag

Women have been helping out with our military since the American revolution. They brought soldiers water, served as nurses, and provided food and clothing. However, their formal relationship wasn't established until the Civil War, and since then women have grown to a position of power in America's defense system.


A woman named Elizabeth Newcom poses as a man and enlists in the Mexican-American war. She marches 600 miles with her infantry before her identity is discovered and she's discharged.


Women formally serve as nurses to wounded soldiers in the American civil war, though they do not have military status.


America creates the Army Nurse Corps, followed 8 years later by the Navy Nurse Corps.


The armed forces begin to utilize women in other administrative roles, such as switchboard operators and stenographers. Additionally, two women join the Coast Guard.


During World War II, the armed forces eventually enlists and utilizes women in nearly all jobs that aren't combat or combat support.

June 12, 1948

President Truman signs The Women's Armed Services Integration Act, granting women a permanent place in all branches of the military.

  • The act made the military one of the first employers to guarantee women equal pay to men in all jobs that women were allowed to hold.
  • Nevertheless, women were not allowed to hold a rank higher than lieutanant colonel, had to leave the military when they had kids, and couldn't make up more than 2% of the overall military.

November 8, 1967

The government lifts a variety of restrictions on military women. Now women can be promoted beyond lieutanant colonel, and women can make up more than 2% of the military.


The first women receive promotion to brigadier general.

More equality advancements occur:

  • Women can apply for the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC), which helps fund college educations.
  • The military allows women to remain in service after having kids.
  • The military ends the draft for men to serve. As an All Volunteer Force, women now have more job opportunities.
  • Congress opens military academies (West Point, the Air Force Academy, etc.) to women, providing them access to some of the best college education in America.


The Air Force admits the first woman to its Test Pilot School.

The Marine Corps prohibits women from serving as embassy guards.


During America's War in the Persian Gulf, women are allowed to fly in combat.


Congress authorizes Navy women to serve on combat duty ships.


The first woman is promoted to four-star general.

November 2009

The army's Major General Anthony Cucolo announces that women in his command in Iraq who become pregnant there could face punishment. After witnessing public backlash to the statement, Cucolo retracts his policy.


Australia announces that military women can serve in any role, including combat. The U.S. is currently receiving pressure from media outlets to join other countries to allow women to serve in all combat positions.


St. Louis Soldiers Memorial Military Museum

Women's Memorial

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation