Griest and Haver, First Women to Complete Ranger School

NEW RANGERSLast week Captain Kristen Griest, an Apache helicopter pilot, and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver, a military police officer, both completed the Army’s Ranger School, and they made the national news. Their feat pitted them against the best of the men in the military and they showed they were equal.

Revolutionary War – Women have been involved in war since this country began, as spies, as nurses, as cooks, and as water bearers. Even in the Revolutionary War women fought alongside men, although Deborah Sampson was disguised as a man and, when discovered, simply took another name and re-enlisted. Margaret Corbin received a pension for her service crewing a cannon at Fort Washington. Lucy Brewer claimed she served on the USS Constitution for three years, but she was a writer, so her words are automatically suspect.

Civil War – During the Civil War Sally Tompkins, a nurse running a hospital in Richmond, Virginia, was the first (and only?) woman commissioned as an officer in the Confederate Army. Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Union spy, was the first and only woman officially inducted into the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Civil War veterans.

World War IIDuring the Second World War, women served their country, filling the expected roles of nurses and secretaries, but also those of strategic planners and airplane pilots. Their service was so notable that in 1948 Congress enacted a law making women a permanent part of the U.S. military services and Vietta M. Bates, in 1949, was the first enlisted woman sworn into the U.S. Army.

Post World War II – In 1972 two women, Anna May Hayes and Elizabeth P. Hoisington reached the rank of brigadier General. In 1976 the military academies, under presidential order, admitted women but it was not until 1996 that the prestigious Citadel admitted women. In 1983, when the United States invaded Grenada, 200 Army and Air Force women were among the forces deployed, as military police and transportation specialists. The armed forces began admitting women to more and more positions previously reserved to men and in 1985 Lt. Kendra Williams, USN, flew a combat mission during Operation Desert Fox in Iraq.

Post 9/11 Wars – Although many positions were still restricted to men, women were accepted in more positions and around 40,000 were deployed during the Gulf and Iraqi wars. In 2005, outside of Baghdad, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester came under attack and killed several insurgents, saving members of her convoy. She was the first woman to receive a Silver Star for valor in close quarters combat. By 2012 the military opened jobs in small units closer to the front lines to women.

In 2013 Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, signed an order stating that women must have the same opportunities in combat jobs. Now Griest and Haver may wear a special Ranger badge on their uniforms, an honor as prized as an Olympic gold medal. What they do not have yet is the right to be a member of a Ranger unit. The military is now evaluating which units can continue to exclude women.

It is hard to understand how modern people, with their intelligence and resources, still wage war. But, it is also difficult to understand why women should be excluded from participation in the endeavors of their countries, should they so choose. The Ranger website says, “Upon completion of this course, Rangers have the essential skills, training, and confidence to be members of the 75th Ranger Regiment.” Griest and Haver have proven they are worthy of membership.

First Women in the Revolutionary War

        Instead of blogging about contemporary women this month, I want to celebrate National Women’s History Month and write about women in our past history. The theme for the National Women’s History Project’s theme for 2014 is: Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment. Taking that theme to heart, the Revolutionary War seemed a good place to start.

from The New Georgia Encyclopedia

from The New Georgia Encyclopedia

We all know that Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag to spur on the Patriots and Abigail Adams asked her husband to “remember the ladies” when drafting the documents to form this country (see my blog on Abigail Adams). Most of us are hard-pressed to name any others, but many women supported the Revolutionary War against the British and a surprising number made it into the history books. Several of them were First Women To. . .

There were women of letters who aided the revolution through their writing:

Mercy Otis Warren wrote plays, such as The Blockheads, that lampooned the British. The plays were written anonymously to preserve her head. Later she was the first woman to write a history of the American Revolution.

Phillis Wheatley was the first published black author in America. She wrote poems about patriotism and one about George Washington, to whom she read the poem in person.

There were also women who enlisted as soldiers:

Margaret Corbin was the first woman in U.S. history to receive a pension for her military service. She was originally a camp follower who helped her husband in his cannon-loading responsibilities. When he was mortally wounded, she took his place and was herself wounded. She is buried at the United States Military Academy.

Modern authors Lucy Freeman and Alma Pond called Deborah Sample America’s First Woman Warrior. This is arguable as other women are known to have fought in the American Revolution, but there is no doubt that Deborah Sample was the first—and only—woman to provide her widower with a pension for her services in the Revolutionary War. Deborah Sample enlisted while disguised as a man and when discovered, simply re-enlisted in another unit under another man’s name.

There were many more women, not necessarily firsts, who served the cause. Here is a brief list of a few:

Molly Pitcher

Molly Pitcher

Mary Ludwig Hays – She was also known as “Molly Pitcher,” because she provided water to the soldiers in her husband’s unit. Like Deborah Sample, she took over her husband’s duties when he was wounded.

Catherine Moore Barry – When it seemed General Cornwallis would overrun General Morgan’s troops, Catherine Moore Barry, who knew well the countryside around Cowpens, South Carolina, slipped down short cuts and trails rounding up more Patriots to join—and win—the battle.

Nancy Hart – When forced to cook a meal for British soldiers, Nancy Hart killed two of them with their own muskets. On another occasion she disguised herself as a crazy man and went through the British camp gathering intelligence. A county in Georgia is named for her, as is War Woman Creek.

Hannah Arnett – When some of the Patriots were dispirited with the war’s progress and considered joining the British, Hannah Arnett burst uninvited into their meeting and proclaimed them cowards. She announced that she would abandon her marriage if her husband left the cause. He supported her position, and they prevailed.

Martha Bratton – Her husband provided gunpowder to the Patriots. When he was away and she learned the British were approaching to steal the gunpowder, she rigged the building where it was housed so that it exploded when the British entered. She later set up a hospital and nursed soldiers from both sides.

Lydia Darragh – Because she was a Quaker, the British used her home for a strategic meeting, setting out a plan for a surprise attack on George Washington. Rationalizing that too many would be hurt if she did nothing, she went against her upbringing, and slipped into Washington’s camp to warn him.

Riding like Paul Revere

Riding like Paul Revere

Sybil Luddington – When Sybil’s father needed someone to round up the troops as the British headed toward them, Sybil Luddington, like Paul Revere, rode through the neighboring towns sounding the alarm.

Prudence Wright – With several women of Groton, Massachusetts, Prudence Wright, dressed in her husband’s clothes, waylaid a British soldier on a bridge and removed secret messages from his pocket for the local Patriots.

Elizabeth Burgin – While bringing food to soldiers held in prison aboard British ships, Elizabeth Burgin helped plan the escape of 200 prisoners. She was awarded a pension for her service.

Elizabeth Geiger – Carrying a message for the Patriots, Elizabeth Geiger was stopped by British soldiers. Timid about searching her, the soldiers sent for women to do the task. Before the women arrived, she memorized the message, ate it and then delivered its content successfully.

Mary Murray – Although her husband supported the British, Mary Murray sided with the Patriots. When she heard the British would entrap retreating Americans, she invited the British officers to tea and delayed them long enough for American troops to escape.

        If you know of other first women during this period, CLICK “Leave a Comment” below and add that information. Thanks!