Women’s History Month is dedicated to honoring trailblazing women who have paved the way for future generations of women. Women’s History Month had its origins in 1981 when Congress passed Pub. L. 97-28 which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982 as “Women’s History Week". As requested by Congress, President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 4903 proclaiming the week beginning on March 7, 1982 as the first "Women’s History Week" and recognizing the vital role of women in American history:
“American women of every race, creed and ethnic background helped found and build our Nation in countless recorded and unrecorded ways ... As leaders in public affairs, American women not only worked to secure their own rights of suffrage and equal opportunity but also were principal advocates in the abolitionist, temperance, mental health reform, industrial labor and social reform movements, as well as the modern civil rights movement”.
Throughout the next five years, Congress continued to pass joint resolutions designating a week in March as "Women’s History Week" and authorizing the President to issue a proclamation to inform the country of this recognition and urge the people to study the contributions of women to U.S. history. In 1987 after being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Pub. L. 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” Listed below are just a few significant and impactful contributions made by women.
Deborah Sampson was born in 1760. At 21 years old, she became the first American woman to serve in combat by enlisting in the Continental Army under the name Robert Shurtleff during the Revolutionary War. She kept her gender hidden by tending to her own battle wounds, but she was discovered when she was hospitalized for a fever. In 1783, she was discharged from the Army. She later received a pension when a court found that she had performed a soldier’s duties.
In 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps. At that time, about 305 women joined the Marines to perform jobs vacated by male Marines who left to fight in World War I. Female Marines could not be promoted above the rank of sergeant and performed jobs within the United States.
Grace Hopper joined the Naval Reserve during World War I and continued to work for the Navy as a reservist. In 1952, the computer-programming pioneer developed a program that translated programming language into machine-readable code –the first step in the creation of the universal programming language, COBOL. She served for 30 years and was later honored posthumously with the christening of the USS Hopper in 1996.
Retired Navy Chief Petty Officer Linda Old Horn-Purdy grew up on the Crow Agency reservation in Montana learning stories of her ancestors from her family while attending school off the reservation. Her desire to learn was her main reason for joining the Navy. In 1985, she was one of the first women on her deployed ship, and in 1999, she was among the first women on a combatant ship. She was in engineering but couldn’t be called a machinist for three years until the field opened to women.
On June 23, 2008, President George W. Bush nominated Ann Dunwoody as a four-star general in the US Army. Dunwoody was the first woman to ever achieve the rank in the history of the U.S. military.
In 2011, Lt. Gen. Patricia D. Horoho became the Army’s 43rd surgeon general. She was the first woman and the first nurse appointed as the Army’s top medical officer. In this position, she is the commander of the U.S. Army Medical Command and directs the third-largest healthcare system in the U.S. Before being appointed as surgeon general of the Army, Horoho was the commander of the Army Nurse Corps.
In 2012, Janet C. Wolfenbarger became the first female four-star general in the U.S. Air Force. After receiving her fourth star, she became the commander of Air Force Material Command. She had previously served as military deputy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition at the Pentagon, where she oversaw research and development, testing, production, and modernization of an annual $40 billion in Air Force programs.