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You've Come a Long Way Baby

Women in the Marine Corps

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Updated March 15, 2004
Story by Lance Cpl. Megan L. Stiner

MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Kaneohe Bay -- A World War II Marine Corps poster called women out to join America's workforce, to boldly "Free A Marine to Fight!" Today, women are fully integrated into the workforce and this year's theme of National Women's History Month, "Women Inspiring Hope and Possibility," underscores the impact of women in modern day society.

Looking back on the history of women in the Corps quickly brings one to Opha Mae Johnson, the first woman to enlist into the Marine Corps Reserves on Aug. 13, 1918. Along with her, 304 other females served in the Reserves during World War I. After the war ended, all 305 females were separated from the Corps.

Women didn't serve in the Corps again - for nearly 25 years - until General Thomas Holcomb, the 17th Commandant of the Marine Corps, announced the formation of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve on Feb. 13, 1943.

Over the years, the roles that women have fulfilled in the Corps have also increased. By the 1970s, women began to be assigned to Fleet Marine Force units, and by 1975, they could be assigned to all occupational fields except combat arms, air defense and antiterrorism units.

In civilian society, women have also made great strides towards equality in the job market. In 1989, women made up about 45 percent of the employed persons in the United States. Their positions in the work force, however, were still unequal in importance compared to their male counterparts.

Between 1950 and 1990, the number of workingwomen nearly doubled from 30 to 57 percent. By 2000, nearly 75 percent of 25- to 35-year-old women participated in the work force. In 2004, although the numbers are still increasing and women are holding higher authority positions than ever before, some would argue that the ratio of men to women is still not where it should be.

"I recall an old television commercial in which women would proclaim, "We've come a long way baby! I think this is ever true today. Even more so, today, women work and fight side-by-side with their male counterparts," said Master Sgt. Milton D. White, MCB Hawaii's equal opportunity advisor. "However, many of the conflicts I deal with, on an almost daily basis, as an equal opportunity adviser, are directly related to the leaps and bounds that women have made in a gender-sensitive society."

National Women's History Month is an attempt to create a better awareness about the influence of women in society, in both the military as well as the civilian work force.

"This month highlights much of this awareness," said White.

To keep military members up-to-date with women's history aboard Marine Corps Base, Hawaii, the Joint Women's History Month Committee has scheduled events to celebrate the occasion. Events include heritage displays and Women's History Month luncheons at Kaneohe Bay and Camp H. M. Smith, three different cultural readings at K-Bay's base library, and a theme-related essay/poster contest at Mokapu Elementary School.

It has been said that history repeats itself. Yet, by keeping society up to date with information about improvements, newfound knowledge ensures continuous advances towards a more positive future.

With modern women from Oprah Winfrey, who became the first woman to own and produce her own syndicated television show in 1990, to Gov. Linda Lingle, Hawaii's first female governor, it is no surprise that woman are continuously instilling hope and inspiration for the endless possibilities of future generations.

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