"Be a Marine, Free a Marine to Fight": The United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve

Women Marines using the M1 Carbine
USMC Official Photograph | National Women’s History Museum

A photograph of women Marines in training at Mount Holyoke College - Apr 22, 1943
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
National Women’s History Museum

Foundations of the Women's Reserve

At a farewell dinner party on the evening of October 12, 1942, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps, Major General Thomas Holcomb, was asked his thoughts about recruiting women into the Corps. It is reported that, before anyone could respond, a portrait of Fifth Commandant, Archibald Henderson (1820-1859), crashed to the ground before the guests. One can only speculate how Henderson would have felt about women serving in the Corps but, after the bitter fighting in the campaign for Guadalcanal, it became obvious that the United States Marine Corps would soon be facing manpower shortages that would need to be addressed immediately. Ruth Cheney Streeter, future Director of the USMCWR, already believed that women had the capability of serving the military, and understood that the United States involvement in the war was all but inevitable. Despite the reluctance of the top Marine Corps officials who had attended that dinner party, women across the United States were ready to serve the Corps.

Swearing In - New York Recruiting Office - Aug 17, 1918
From the collection of Marine Corps Women's Reserve (COLL/981), at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division
National Women's History Museum

Marinettes World War I

Though it seemed unprecedented, it was not the first time that women served in the Marine Corps. In July 1918, just four months before the end of the First World War, Commandant Major General George Barnett requested permission to recruit female marines to serve in clerical positions. As the demand for manpower rapidly increased due to the mounting causalities on the front in France, it became impossible for the Corps to send anyone but under trained Marines overseas. When a “sizeable number of battle-ready Marines” were discovered “still doing clerical work in the United States,” the Corps sought help from highly qualified American women.1 In August 1918, after newspapers began running the application, thousands of women intent on playing their part in the war effort began flooding into recruitment offices. Opha Mae Johnson, who worked as a civil service employee at Headquarters Marine Corps, enrolled on August 13, 1918, officially becoming America’s first woman Marine. Though thousands were willing to serve, only 305 of the nation’s top qualified women, coined “Marinettes,” were enrolled.

Public Law 689 Navy Bill - Jul 30, 1942
United States Congress | National Women’s History Museum

Navy Bill

On July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 (Navy Bill), officially establishing the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) and the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (USMCWR) as integrated reserves of the military. Although separate branches, the Navy and Marine Corps both operate under the Department of the Navy, and the WAVES and USMCWR were therefore formed under the same bill. Despite the support for, and signing of, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps bill two months prior, there were still many obstacles to face before women were able to serve as Marines. The Corps, clinging to their idea of being an exclusive club for Caucasian men, delayed forming the reserve for as long as possible. Holcomb himself was still opposed to the idea of having women in the military but, as the fight raged on and casualties added up, he had no other options. This late enrollment had its advantages, and the Marines were able to observe the successes and failures that occurred while the other branches (WAC, WAVES, and WASP) were being organized. They also benefited from the Navy’s growing network of resources. The Navy had developed close relationships with women’s college administrators and leaders while touring campuses in search of recruits. Ultimately, Naval Reserve training centers were established on the Campuses of Mount Holyoke and Smith College (nicknamed USS Northampton) because Naval officials believed college campuses to be appropriate training environments for women.

Frank V. McKinless Swears in Women Marines - Feb 1943
The Frank V. McKinless Collection (COLL/5185) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections

Early Plans

Holcomb reluctantly wrote to the Commanders of all Marine Corps posts and procurement districts on November 5, 1942, asking them to prepare for women recruits and to assess the number of women each post would potentially need. Women Reservists (WRs) would be replacing men in roles such as office clerks, radiomen, drivers, mechanics, messmen, and commissary clerks, to name a few. In his letter, Holcomb made it clear that, within the year, it would become imperative to replace women with men in all roles possible to address the impending manpower shortage. As replies started coming in, planners began estimating the number of women needed to fill the proposed roles within the Marine Corps. Within four months, the goal was set at 500 officers and 6,000 enlisted women. By June 1944, this increased to 1,000 officers and 18,000 enlisted women. Rank and grade distribution were the same between men and women with exception of the organization of commissioned officers. The highest-ranking officers were established by the Navy Bill, which permitted one lieutenant commander to lead the WAVES (Mildred McAfee), and her counterpart in the USMCWR would be a major.

General – Women's Reserve (Mar 10, 1943)
by Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1775 -, Record Group 127, National Archives
National Women’s History Museum
"If I’ve got to have women, I’ve got to have somebody in charge in whom I’ve got complete confidence." -General Thomas Holcomb

After the completion of planning, it was imperative that Holcomb find a sharp, highly-qualified candidate for director. He found such candidate in Ruth Cheney Streeter. When the news broke that France had fallen to Germany in 1940, Ruth immediately enrolled in an aeronautics course at New York University where she learned how to fly, got her commercial pilot’s license, and bought her own small plane. Prior to the organization of the USMCWR, she had been rejected for a spot in the Women Airforce Service Pilots, for being twelve years beyond the age limit. She then tried to enlist as a pilot in the WAVES but was told that, while they welcomed the addition of her plane, the only position they could offer her was that of a ground instructor. She declined.

Unbeknownst to her, Dean Virginia C. Gildersleeve of Barnard College, Chair of the Advisory Educational Council which had earlier recommended Lieutenant Commander Mildred McAfee for selection to the Navy, was drawing up a list of twelve promising Marine Corps Women’s Reserve candidates, and Ruth's name was on it. Though she had only completed two years of college, she had been the President of her class at Bryn Mawr College and was an excellent candidate for the position. She was also a loving wife to a successful lawyer and businessman, and the mother of four children, three of whom were serving the war effort. Holcomb personally believed that the success of the Women’s Reserve depended solely on the character of its director, and Ruth served as the perfect example of a “ladylike” Marine for those worried about their daughters joining the Marine Corps.

Ruth Cheney Streeter - 1945
Special Collections/University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.
National Women’s History Museum

During her initial interview, when asked if she knew any Marines, Ruth was worried about the fact that she did not, believing this would harm her chances of becoming director. On the contrary, this was a plus for Holcomb, who was concerned that “if she had high ranking friends in the Corps, she might circumvent the chain of command when she couldn’t get her way.” After acing several interviews with high ranking Marine Corps officers, and being approved by the Secretary of the Navy, Ruth was sworn in on January 29, 1943 as Major Ruth Cheney Streeter, the first Director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. The significance of her new role quickly sank in as she was tasked with overseeing recruiting, training, administrative work, and maintaining the morale of the new women’s reserve.

Be a Marine...Free a Marine to Fight - 1941 - 1945
Records of the Office of Government Reports, 1932 - 1947, Record Group 44, National Archives
National Women’s History

"Be A Marine.. Free A Marine To Fight!"

The slogan “Be a Marine, Free a Marine to Fight” proved to be an effective recruiting tool and was plastered on numerous posters that depicted feminine and patriotically uniformed female Marines. Government recruiting posters and videos aimed to convince the public that traditional female values were ardently upheld in the Reserves and appealed to young women by offering exclusive job training.

Mary Cugini Necko - Nov 1944
Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Mary Cugini Necko

Mary Cugini Necko was one of many WRs hooked by the catchy slogan. As a second-generation immigrant born to Italian parents, Mary joined the Marine Corps in search of opportunity and adventure. She was also inspired by her boyfriend who served with the Marines. He had been wounded in combat and sent to the hospital to recover, allowing them more time to share letters with one another. Their conversations sparked constant questions, and she often found herself wondering what she could do for the war effort. After a lot of thought, Mary believed that joining the Marines was her way to do something worthwhile as the shortage of Marines grew larger and larger. “It was these big banners up, ‘Free a Marine to fight’ and that's what I did... I often wonder who it was, if he's still alive today.” Despite receiving criticism from her Aunt Rosa, who believed that “only bad girls go into the Army,” Mary joined the Women’s Reserve in February of 1944.

LIFE Magazine USMCWR - Mar 27, 1944
LIFE Magazine | National Women’s History Museum

“They Are Marines.”

As recruiting moved steadily ahead, Americans became obsessed with the women joining the USMCWR. Recruiting films like “Lady Marines” provided insight into military life and, like the recruiting films for women of the other branches, showcased the values of “femininity, benefits of joining the military, and the importance of the work needing done.”2 The public adored the clever nicknames given to the WAC, WASP, and WAVES and were eager to assist in naming the USMCWR as well. Marine Corps Headquarters was bombarded with suggestions: MARS, Femarines, WAMS, Dainty Devil-Dogs, Glamarines, Women's Leather-neck Aides, and even Sub-Marines.3 Holcomb, growing fonder of the WRs, responded in the March 27, 1944 edition of Life Magazine, stating that “They are Marines. They don’t have a nickname and they don’t need one. They get their basic training in a Marine Atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of the Marines. They are Marines.”

11 Joe Corn Stuart - 1945
Joe Corn Stuart Collection (AFC/2001/001/26808), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
National Women's History Museum
“We, the Marines, were the elite.”
- Mary Cugini Necko

By June 1, 1944, the USMCWR surpassed its recruitment goal of 18,000 WRs. The successful recruitment is often attributed to the outstanding reputation of the Marine Corps. Marines pride themselves on being the toughest, the bravest, and the most selective. This esprit de corps, a popular notion among all Marines which represents the morale and camaraderie between them, was not lost among the WRs. In response to her aunt incorrectly identifying her as a soldier, Mary proudly and fiercely exclaimed “I’m in the Marines!”

Joe Corn Stuart felt similarly. Her family had been full of service members. At the time, Joe's brother was serving in the Navy and her dad, who had served in the First World War, was called upon to serve in the European Theatre of Operations for the ongoing war. After getting married at the age of 19, Joe and her husband both volunteered themselves to the Marine Corps. When asked what attracted her to the Marines, she explained, “I just felt like that they were the best.

Lieutenants Receiving Bars
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections
National Women’s History Museum

Boot Camp - Officer Candidates

On March 13, 1943, the first class of 71 Marine Officer Candidates arrived at the U.S. Midshipmen School (Women’s Reserve) at Mount Holyoke. At the start, the eligibility requirements were similar for both officers and enlisted women: United States citizenship; not married to a Marine; either single or married but with no children under 18; height not less than 60 inches; weight not less than 95 pounds; good vision and teeth. The women Marines were formed into companies under the command of a male officer, Major E. Hunter Hurst. These women began their training as Privates, and after successfully completing four weeks, were promoted to Officer Candidate. If any WR was unsuccessful in completing the first four weeks, they had the option to be sent to Hunter College to complete basic enlistment training or be discharged. If the Officer Candidate completed her eight-week course, but did not pick up commission, she would be forced to submit a formal resignation to the Commandant.

Two Marines and a WAVE - 1945
Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro
National Women’s History Museum

The first four weeks of boot camp was identical to that of WAVES curriculum. The only exception was drill, which was extremely important in the process of turning a recruit into a Marine. For this, male Drill Instructor’s (DIs) were transferred to Mount Holyoke from Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island, South Carolina. Male DIs were extremely hostile to the new female recruits who had “disrupted” the all-male sanctity of the Marine Corps. However, it must be noted that they softened overtime as the WRs continued to prove themselves. In addition to drill, Officer Candidates studied topics related to the Navy, and then Marine Corps specific topics, taught by male Marines, including “Marine Corps administration and courtesies, map reading, interior guard, safeguarding military information, and physical conditioning.” On May 4, 1943, the first women in history became commissioned officers of the United States Marine Corps. In all, 214 women graduated from Mount Holyoke.

Regimental Training - Jun 19, 1943
Gladyce A. Pederson Nypan Collection (AFC/2001/001/10236), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library
National Women's History Museum

Enlisted WRs

Two weeks after the Officer Candidates began their training, 722 “boots,” or enlisted recruits, were ordered to the U.S. Naval Training School (Women's Reserve) at Hunter College in New York. They arrived in three waves, between March 24 and March 26, 1943. Much of the coursework at Hunter was already geared toward members of the WAVES, and much of the training the early WRs obtained was designed for Naval indoctrination. However, modifications were made, and male Marines were pulled from Parris Island to become instructors. These sessions lasted anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks and included: “uniforming, drill, physical training, and lectures on customs and courtesies, history and organization, administration, naval law, map reading, interior guard, defense against chemical attack, defense against air attack, identification of aircraft, and safeguarding military information.”

Pepper Nypan Shortly After Bootcamp - 1943
Gladyce A. Pederson Nypan Collection (AFC/2001/001/10236), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress
National Women's History Museum

Gladyce A. Nypan, who joined in 1943, recalls the instant camaraderie, tough instructors, and the process of learning discipline while undergoing boot camp at Hunter College. “Our drill instructors were so tough. They were men who probably didn’t like to be where they were. It had been a while before the Marines were going to let us join their ranks anyway, and then look at what job they inherited. Drilling women,” she scoffs, “you kind of felt that.” About two weeks into boot camp, Gladyce recalls coming to the realization that these men had to be that way. “We had to learn, you know, to be disciplined, and take orders. No matter how ridiculous they seemed.” At one point while drilling, another recruit in front of her fainted, and she dropped to her knees to help her. “What would you do, wouldn’t you?” she asks. “Boy, did I get chewed out! … We soon learned to know why those things had to be done.”

Publicity Photograph, Various Uniforms of USMCWR
Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 13061, National Park Service
National Women’s History Museum


The Marine Corps also took great pride in their appearance, so it was perhaps not surprising that Commandant Holcomb requested the uniform be designed before making the announcement of his decision to form the Women’s Reserve. Uniform designer, Mrs. Anne Adams Lentz became the first commissioned officer in the MCWR. Her orders were to create a female equivalent that matched the traditional Marine colors and stripes. While the orders were specific, production and shipment of the uniforms were delayed and recruits expecting uniforms upon arrival at boot camp were sorely disappointed. To ensure the uniforms fit as intended, a handful of officers attended training sessions and learned how to tailor, alter, run fittings, and construct clothing. Upon completion of the course, they were sent to major Marine posts across the country to ensure that the uniforms always appeared well tailored and fitted to the USMCWR

Ruth Cheney Streeter and Major Edward Hunter Hurst / Women Marines Practice Self Defense - 1945
Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections, From the Marine Corps Women's Reserve Collection (COLL/981)
National Women's History Museum

Camp LeJeune

“If it is possible to arrange transportation and schedules that would not interrupt the training of the men in these lines of work, I believe it would be a definite inspiration to the Marine Corps Women's Reserve to see them actually in training."
- Major Ruth Cheney Streeter

Eventually, both Holyoke and Hunter colleges became so overwhelmed with female “boots” that they consolidated both schools and transferred them to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina which greatly benefitted the women Marines. Within their own training facility, the Marine Corps could better instill the Marine esprit de corps, and offer training specific to Marine Corps topics rather than Naval topics. LeJeune was the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast and, with encouragement from Colonel Streeter, provided the opportunity for women to observe field exercises and weapons demonstrations, and to see the faces of the young men they would free to fight. WRs also had the opportunity to engage in training typically not offered to women in the military.

Major Hurst also supported this idea, so much so that he wrote to Brigadier General Waller: “I found myself wishing more and more that we could include some weapons instructions, at least pistol, for our women … I have found that the women come into the Marine Corps expecting to learn to shoot and I, of course, would like to see them become the first women's reserve in the country to take up the specialty of their men if Headquarters considers the idea at all feasible.” As a result of their efforts', WRs were able to learn hand to hand combat and train on weapons, to name a few.

Marine Corps Drill Instructor Looks Over New Recruits
by Official USMC Photograph
National Women’s History Museum


Though the WRs benefitted in many ways, the transfer from Mount Holyoke and Hunter College to Camp Lejeune intensified the hostile behavior of the drill instructors, and other male Marines, towards them. Although the Commandant was clear in his orders concerning nicknames, male Marines would often blatantly use slurs, and call the women derogatory terms, such as ”BAM,” or “broad-assed marines.” The abuse was so bad that it began directly affecting the morale of the WRs and Major Streeter. When Commandant Holcomb found out about the verbal and psychological abuse, he was furious, and wrote in 1943 that this behavior “indicates a laxity in discipline which will not be tolerated. Commanding officers will be held responsible.” While stationed in Arlington, Virginia, Mary Necko experienced this animosity while on an outing to a nightclub. “A Marine comes staggering out of the bar. He's coming diagonally to me,” she explains. ‘You BAM.’ I got scared, and I just walked a little faster andgot away from him. The Marine MP was right behind him and he grabbed him and pulled him away.”

By mid-1944, the abuse began to come to an end (though it did not completely go away, and women Marines today still experience this type of discrimination), and a mutual understanding formed between male and female Marines. By this point, WRs were proving their competency on the daily and, along with their sharp appearance and Marine Corps pride, the men even began to take a liking to them.

Aviation Machinists Mate - 1943
From the Sarah Thornton Collection (COLL/4638) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections
National Women's History Museum

Specialist Training and Job Assignments

“Anything except heavy lifting and combat. They could try.”
- Major Ruth Cheney Streeter

After completing boot camp, the WRs were assigned to specific jobs, a daunting task that needed to be taken care of and was initially done by male Marines. First, WRs would undergo a multitude of testing to determine their skills, then an assignment would be made based on the needs of the Marine Corps. These tests included standardized testing to assess “general learning, mechanical, and clerical ability;” Army Radio Operators Aptitude testing; vocation and job interests; and finally, a personality test. Most WRs were assigned to jobs that they had held as civilians because they had already obtained skills and training, although, some top-tier officers and enlisted women were chosen for specialist school. These schools were run by higher educational institutions alongside the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. Some 9,641 women (8,914 enlisted and 727 officers) attended these schools. The first Marine Corps schools open to women were cooks and bakers, motor transport, quartermaster, and non-commissioned officers. The Navy also had courses available to them including Aviation Machinist's Mate at the Naval Training School, Memphis, Tennessee; Link Training Instructor at the Naval Air Station, Atlanta, Georgia; and Aviation Storekeeper at Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.6 In 1943, USMCWR recruiting brochures listed 34 job assignments available for women interested in joining, but the final set of statistics released later in the war lists 200 jobs. Specialist school was also expanded to almost 30 options by the end of the war, demonstrating a dramatic shift in the thinking behind what women could do. These schools included: “first sergeant, paymaster, signal, parachute rigger, aerographer, clerical, control tower operator, aerial gunnery instructor, celestial navigation, motion picture operator/technician, aircraft instruments technician, radio operator, radio material teletypewriter, post exchange, uniform shop, automotive mechanic, carburetor and ignition, aviation supply, and photography.

Women Marines Arrive For Duty in Hawaii - Jan 1945
Official USMC Photo
National Women’s History Museum


While WRs were barred from serving in stations outside of the continental United States, but there were some generals who believed that women could take over the duties at Pearl Harbor to release the men stationed there for combat roles. After hearing the appeals of both Lieutenant General Holland Smith and the Secretary of the Navy, Congress signed Public Law 441 in 1944. This law allowed the USMCWR to deploy to Hawaii and stipulated that “Members of the Women's Reserve shall not be assigned to duty on board vessels of the Navy or in aircraft while such aircraft are engaged in combat missions, and shall not be assigned to duty outside the American Area and the Territories of Hawaii and Alaska, and may be assigned to duty outside the continental United States only upon their prior request.” Five officers and 160 enlisted women with outstanding disciplinary records, and necessary skill sets handpicked by their commanders, were sent on the first boat to Hawaii. Once there, they adapted quickly and took up jobs as clerks, radio operators, drivers, airplane repairers, and mechanics.

Photograph of Three Marine Corps Women Reservists - Oct 16, 1943
Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 - 1951, Record Group 208, National Archives
National Women's History Museum

Problems with Diversity

In early 1942, the Marine Corps began recruiting native speakers of the Navajo language to assist in communications. This was first put into practice during World War I, but it wasn’t until World War II that specific policies were developed for the recruitment and training of Native American recruits. These men became known as the “code talkers,” and used their lesser-known native language to send messages on the battlefield. With Native American men serving as precedent, Native American women were also accepted into the USMCWR. The first Native woman to enlist in the USMCWR was Minnie Spotted Wolf, a member of the Blackfeet Tribe. Minnie (far left) was born and raised in Heart Butte, Montana. Her father was a rancher, and she grew up assisting with chores like cutting fence posts, training horses, and raising sheep. She was also skilled in driving two-ton trucks, which contributed to her duties as a heavy equipment operator and driver in the Women’s Reserve. She served on bases in both California and Hawaii and served with the Marines until 1947.

Between the late 1700s and the early 1940s, the Marine Corps followed a discriminatory policy that barred African American’s from joining their forces. As a result of executive orders like Executive Order 8892, they opened their doors to African American recruits in June 1942. Though Black men were now allowed to serve within the Corps, the desegregation process was rocky and did not create full integration until the 1960s. This process of desegregation did not apply to Black women during World War II. In fact, no Black women served in the USMCWR during the War. The Women’s Reserve also excluded Japanese-American women from serving in their ranks as well.

Colonel Katherine A. Towel, USMC
by United States Marine Corps

End of the War

World War II ended with Japan’s surrender on September 2, 1945. As soldiers began to trickle back home to the States, the government expected to have all Women Reservists turn in their resignation and be discharged from service by September of 1946. Believing her job to be done, Colonel Streeter resigned as Director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve on December 6, 1945 and her assistant, Colonel Katherine A. Towle, became the director tasked with demobilizing the reserve and creating post war organizations for the veterans. Although many were eager to send the women home, the end of the war brought mountains of paperwork. Returning soldiers had orders that needed to be processed. Paychecks needed to be distributed. Medals and decorations were awarded for heroic bravery. Not to mention the thousands and thousands of Marines who needed their accounts settled. It was easier for the men of the Marine Corps to keep the female clerks as they navigated through post-war chaos.

As the MCWR continued to disband, it fell to female leaders to assist fellow reservists as they were discharged from their active duty positions and resumed their lives as civilians. Months later, there was talk about the military branches receiving proposals to give women permanent status in the military. Hearing the talk, the Marine Corps administration allowed women to stay and even welcomed the return of those who had already been discharged. The Commandant specifically requested that those with valuable clerical skills be reassigned to departments working to fulfill the Armed Forces Leave Act of 1946. An anonymous WR remembered the negative attitudes that had originally surrounded enlistment and stated “It is entirely probable that the wailing and moaning which went on that day amongst the old Marines was never equaled – never, that is, until it was announced that the women Marines were going home. Then, with a complete reversal of attitude, many of those same Marines declared that the women in their offices were essential military personnel and absolutely could not be spared from the office.”

Women’s Armed Service Integration Act - Jun 11, 1948
Library of Congress
National Women’s History Museum

Women’s Armed Service Integration Act

In June 1948, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act. This legislation allowed women to serve as permanent members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the newly constructed Air Force. Even Commandant Holcomb, who was vocal about his disdain for women in the Marines at the start of the war, simply amended: “Like most Marines, when the matter first came up, I didn’t believe women could serve any useful purpose in the Marine Corps... Since then I’ve changed my mind.”

Captain Anneliese Satz - Aug 9, 2019
U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Ashley Phillips/Released 190311-M-PL134-100.JPG
National Women’s History Museum

Women Marines Post-War

Since World War II, women have received permanent status in the Military and are consistently testing boundaries and expanding their capabilities. The creation of the Women’s Reserve broke women away from old fashioned gender roles and proved that women could handle the demands of military service. A few months after her resignation, Colonel Streeter was awarded the Legion of Merit, the highest award given to a Marine for their service. On September 10, 1949, Annie E. Graham and Ann. E. Lamb became the first enlisted black Marines to arrive at Parris Island for Boot Camp training. This was monumental, given how the racist and exclusionary history of the Marine Corps barred black women from enlisting in the USMCWR during the war. In 1967, Master Sergeant Barbara Jean Dulinsky became the first woman Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam. Captain Anneliese Satz became the first female Marine to pilot a F-35B fighter jet in June 2019 and joined the Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 121, whose origins came out of World War II. Later the same year, Lance Corporal Alexa Barth made history with her mental and physical capabilities when she became the first female Marine to pass the challenging Basic Reconnaissance Course.

Pfc. Kathy Espinoza inspects the uniform of Pvt. Arella Aleman - Nov 16, 2018
Photo By: Staff Sgt. Tyler Hlavac
National Women’s History Museum

Challenges Faced by Women Marines Today

While women have made great strides toward equality within the military, we must not paint a rosy picture of women’s service in the Marines. Women service members face unique challenges that contribute to the lower number of female enlistees. These challenges include gender discrimination, and a high number of women are victims of sexual assault during their time in service. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, 23% of women reported sexual assault and 55% reported some form of sexual harassment. It was not until 2015 that Women Marines were permitted to serve in the Infantry, despite the Marines being “the only service to request a waiver to not integrate women into some combat positions against the Pentagon’s 2013 order.” Today, women Marines are even kept separate during their basic training, being shuffled into their own training battalion, the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion on Parris Island. Women make up only 8.3% of the Marine Corps and while the numbers prove that there’s still a great deal of work to be done for equality, we can recognize the importance of the Women’s Reserves in the push for continued progress.


Researched, written, and curated by Lacey Opdycke, Public History Research Intern, Fall 2020.

Images and sources courtesy of:

Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project (Research Archive) at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Department of Defense Photos

Mount Holyoke College Archives and Special Collections

Records of the Office of Government Reports, 1932 - 1947, Record Group 44, National Archives

Records of the Office of War Information, 1926 - 1951, Record Group 208, National Archives

Records of the U.S. Marine Corps, 1775 -, Record Group 127, National Archives

The Collection of Marine Corps Women's Reserve (COLL/981), at the Archives Branch, Marine Corps History Division

The Frank V. McKinless Collection (COLL/5185) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections

The Sarah Thornton Collection (COLL/4638) at the Marine Corps Archives and Special Collections

The Marine Corps Archives FLICKR

U.S. Marine Corps Photographers Sgt. Ashley Phillips and Staff Sgt. Tyler Hlavac

Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress


"American Indian Code Talkers," The War. The National WWII Museum New Orleans. https://bit.ly/2JinqRE

Germano, Kate. “Separate Is Not Equal in the Marine Corps.” The New York Times. March 31, 2018. https://nyti.ms/2GneWGx

Gladyce A. Pederson Nypan Collection (AFC/2001/001/10236), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/bib/loc.natlib.afc2001001.10236

Hewitt, Captain Linda L. Women Marines in World War I. Washington D.C.: History and Museums Division Headquarters, 1974.

Joe Corn Stuart Collection (AFC/2001/001/26808), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. https://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/bib/loc.natlib.afc2001001.26808

Moran, Jim. U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve: 'They Are Marines' Uniforms and Equipment in World War II. Philadelphia, PA: Frontline Books, 2018.

“National Native American Heritage Month: Minnie Spotted-Wold, USMC.” Transportation History. November 8, 2019. https://transportationhistory.org/2019/11/08/national-native-american-heritage-month-minnie-spotted-wolf-usmc/

Necko, Mary Cugini. Interviewed by Eric Elliot. June 17, 1999. Transcript. Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, UNCG University Libraries, Greensboro, NC. http://libcdm1.uncg.edu/cdm/singleitem/collection/WVHP/id/4258/rec/7

Stremlow, Colonel Mary V. Free a Marine to Fight: Women Marines in World War II. Vol. 1 & 2. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps, 1994.

Vella, Sgt. Brittney. “First Female F-35B Pilot.” MARINES. United States Marine Corps. August 9, 2019. https://www.marines.mil/News/News-Display/Article/1930080/first-female-f-35b-pilot/