First Woman Joins U.S. Marine Corps
The women’s liberation movement has had many pioneers—women who were brave enough to be the first woman in an office or endeavor. One such pioneer was Opha Mae Johnson, who became the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps when she joined the Marine Corps Reserve on Aug. 13, 1918. Johnson, 18 years old, signed up to join the war effort in what turned out to be the waning days of World War I.
In offering her service to her country, Johnson was answering the government’s “Free a Man to Fight” campaign. A total of 305 women joined the Marine Corps that year, primarily serving as stenographers to free up male clerks for combat in Europe. These women Marines served until July 1919.
The following three newspaper articles are about the first women to join the U.S. Marine Corps, and Opha Johnson in particular.
This article was published by the Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio) on the front page of its Aug. 14, 1918, issue:
Woman Joins Marines
Will Direct Girl Clerks at Corps Headquarters
(By Plain Dealer-Times Leased Wire.)
Washington, Aug. 13.—The first woman enrolled in the Marine Corps Reserve was sworn in today. She is Private Opha M. Johnson, M.C.R., a resident of Washington [D.C.]. Before entering the service she was with the Civil Services Commission.
Private Johnson will look after the interests of the young women who are soon to be enrolled in the Marine Corps Reserve and detailed as clerks at Marine Corps headquarters, to release enlisted men for active duty.
This article was published by the St. Albans Messenger (St. Albans, Vermont) on Aug. 17, 1918:
News of the State
What Is Going On in and about Old Vermont
Miss Opha Johnson, now a resident of Washington, who is the first woman to enroll in the Marine Corps Reserve, is a Vermonter. She passed her early days at East Wallingford and for some years was employed in the insurance office of M. J. Francisco & Son in Rutland. She went from Rutland to New York to do stenographic work and lately has been connected with the Civil Service department.
This article was published by the Evening Times (Pawtucket, Rhode Island) on Aug. 16, 1918:
50 Women Apply for Marine Enlistment
New York, August 14.—Yesterday was woman’s day at the United States Marine Corps recruiting station at 24 East Twenty-third street. The room was filled with applicants who sought to enlist for service in the home offices, to relieve the marines for actual front line service.
Fifty women between the ages of 18 and 35 answered this, the government’s first appeal for stenographers in the Marine Corps. Those who pass the examinations will be assigned to Washington.
The girls will receive the rank of fourth class privates and enlist for the duration of the war. They will wear the uniform of the United States Marine Corps and have the same privileges of allowance and allotments accorded to the men. The salary, including board and feed, will average about $100 a month. Faithful and intelligent work will be rewarded with promotions right up the line, it was announced.
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