August 13, 1918: World War I, First Female Marines Enlist!

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A Brief History

On August 13, 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first of 305 women to enlist in the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, proving that women can do and be just about anything!

Digging Deeper

Taking over clerical duties in the U.S. while the men went overseas, these first female Marines were unofficially called “Marinettes.”

Though first formed during World War I, the Women’s Reserve was again mobilized during World War II and only became a permanent part of the Marine Corps in 1948.

Today women comprise about 6.2% of total personnel strength of the Marines.  Of the approximately 194,000 Marines currently on active duty, about 12,000 are women.  Of the 40,000 reservist Marines, 2,400 are women.

It should be noted that the U.S. Marine Corps is the elite fighting branch of the United States Military and is comprised of the smartest, toughest and best-looking troops the country has to offer.  (It must be noted that the author of this article is a retired marine, and it must also be noted that the editor of this article is a former army brat who begs to differ…) With the highest tooth-to-tail ratio of any service (highest percentage of combat versus support troops) and the lowest percentage of officers, the Marine Corps is always right at the edge of the scene of conflict, positioned “at-the-ready” on deployed amphibious ships and able to implement force long before the Army can get people and equipment to the scene.

A slang term for a Marine is  “Leatherneck,”for the uniforms worn in the past.  Marines are sometimes called “Devil Dogs” which is the name stunned German troops gave them during World War I. 

During World War II, Marines suffered losses of 87,000.  With just under 500,000 troops fighting, they suffered much higher casualties than the other American service branches. 

An Interesting History and Headlines Fact: The first female Lieutenant General (3-star rank) in the U.S. military was a Marine, Carol Mutter. 

Other History and Headlines Facts:  All the medical personnel serving with the Marines, including doctors, nurses and corpsmen, belong to the Navy, as do the Chaplains.  Contrary to popular belief, the Marine Corps is not part of the Navy or run by the Navy.  Both the Navy and Marine Corps, however, are co-equal (by law) branches of the Department of the Navy under the Department of the Defense.  The Marine Corps is a “naval service.”

History and Headlines Bargain:  Each individual Marine costs the government about $20,000 less than an individual soldier, sailor or airman.  At only 6% of the U.S. defense budget, the Marine Corps is a terrific bargain.  Marines are in better shape, too, with a 3-mile run as a mandatory part of their physical fitness test, whereas the Army only requires a 2-mile run.

Crack Shots:  Marines must qualify annually with the M16A2 or M16A4 rifle, firing 50 rounds at distances of 200, 300 and 500 yards.  200 yards in the standing position and 500 yards in the prone position is an awful long shot with regular iron sights (no scope).  (The Army rifle qualification is only 40 rounds at 50 to 300 meters.)

 To all of our women and men Marines, retired Marines and former Marines, thank you for your service and Semper fi.  To everyone else, sleep easy tonight knowing the Marines are on the job.

Question for students (and subscribers): Do you have any family members who served as a Marine?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please read…

Crow, Tracy.  Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine.  University of Nebraska Press, 2012.

Frank, Lisa Tendrich.  An Encyclopedia of American Women at War [2 volumes]: From the Home Front to the Battlefields.  ABC-CLIO, 2013.

Hewitt USMCR, Linda L.  Women Marines in World War I.  CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013.

Zeinert, Karen.  Those Extraordinary Women/Ww1.  Millbrook Press, 2001.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.