Far back in our nation’s history only men were allowed to be Marines. The first women to join the Marines are all recorded in history, but there are a few other firsts for women that we are about to look at as well. Among them is one that is perhaps only legend, but aren’t legends a part of the Marine Corps?
Jump to a Famous Female Marine
|12. Vernice Armour
|8. Rose Franco
|4. Private Lucille McClarren
|11. Bea Arthur
|7. Annie E. Graham
|3. Angela Salinas
|10.Barbara Olive Barnwell
|6. Opha Mae Johnson
|2. Ruth Cheney Streeter
|9. Lucy Brewer
|5. Anne E. Lamb
|1. Ruth Wood
12. Vernice Armour
Vernice Armour has a long list of accomplishments that put her on this list today.
First of all before she even joined the Marines she was the first African-American woman to be on the Nashville Police Motorcycle Squad, something which had apparently been a childhood dream of hers.
Soon that dream changed and she was entering the Marines with the goal of being a pilot.
She earned her wings in July of 2001, not only the top of her class of twelve, but also the top of the two hundred others who were graduating, making her not only the first African-American female naval aviator in the Marine Corps, but also the first African-American female combat pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces.
She served two tours, flying air-supports and convoy escorts, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, often spending the night in enemy territory and returning to base with bullet holes in her helicopter.
Now retired from the Marines, Armour has not forgotten her training and started her own business and shares with others that ‘Marine mentality.’
Related Article: Which Branch Of The Military Should I Join?
11. Bea Arthur
Bernice Aurthur is much better known today by her stage name of Bea Arthur, a name which is quite famous in acting circles and on Broadway stages.
This famous female Marine was on a little-known TV show called Golden Girls. 🙂
It is perhaps more due to her fame as an actress than for any great deeds she did in the Marines that put her on this list, though as one of the first women to join the Marines she helped to pave the way for women after her.
Born as Bernice Frankel, Bea joined the Women’s Reserve two months before her twenty-first birthday and on February 20, 1943 began her basic training.
Her first job was as a typist at Marine headquarters in Washington D. C. and over the following two years she continued to work as a typist and also as a truck driver in both Virginia and North Carolina, a year into her enlistment marrying a fellow Marine by the name of Robert Aurthur.
In September of 1945 she was honorably discharged, by then holding the rank of Staff Sergeant. From there she went almost straight to a dramatics school and from there to Broadway where she made her mark on the world as a famous actress.
10. Barbara Olive Barnwell
Staff Sergeant Barbara Olive Barnwell makes this list as the first female Marine to be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal.
Though not much is said as to the exact situation, we know that she was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal on August 7, 1953 when she saved a fellow Marine from drowning off the Atlantic Coast near the training facility at Camp Lejeune.
Camp Lejeune has fourteen miles of beaches and is located between two deep-water ports, which is why it is used for amphibious assault training and also why it is easy to picture someone drowning near there.
She was twenty-five years old when she became the first woman to receive the Medal, and though very little is known about her other than this, it is clear that she helped to pave the way for future women by helping them gain the respect of their fellow marines.
9. Lucy Brewer
The name of Lucy Brewer will perhaps forever be shrouded in doubt. According to legend she was the very first woman Marine in a time when women were not allowed to be Marines.
As the saying goes, she disguised herself in men’s cloths and, giving herself the name George Baker, went undetected through the physical exams to become a member of the Marine guard on the vessel the “Constitution.” Here she saw some of the bloodiest sea fights of the war of 1812.
She served for three years without being detected and at the end of that time was honorably discharged, at which point she resumed her real name and attire, eventually settling down to married life.
The Marine Corps points out the fact that physical examinations are very thorough and that the crew on the Constitution had little privacy at all. Though there are no records of anyone like her and no undisputable proof that Lucy Brewer really existed, she has still earned her place as a legend.
8. Rose Franco
Born in Puerto Rico, Rose Franco was a famous female Marine because she became the first Hispanic woman to make it to the rank of chief warrant officer in the U.S. Marine Corps.
With that said, there is actually more to her story than that.
She enlisted on February 8, 1952 at the age of twenty, completing her training in North Carolina. After this she got the duties of administrative supply assistant at Camp Pendleton in California.
When she completed her four-year enlistment, she returned to Puerto Rico where she worked for an airline company.
Soon though, she had had enough of civilian life, so she rejoined the Marines, this time working in New York, then South Carolina.
When she finally worked her way up to Warrant Officer it was by the recommendation of the Secretary of the Navy himself and there were only ten other female Warrant Officers in the Marine Corps at that time.
She began to work in the Pentagon, holding various positions of importance until she retired in 1977 with the rank of Chief Warrant Officer 3, after which she returned home to Puerto Rico.
7. Annie E. Graham
While the Army and the Navy both allowed blacks into its wartime Women Reserves during the war, the Marines were the last to allow this. Like with everything else, however, there had to be a first and that first was Annie E. Graham.
In September 1949, four years after Japan’s formal surrender, she enlisted and was very shortly afterward followed by Ann E. Lamb and the two went to boot camp together on September 10, 1949.
Thanks to Graham’s example many other black women were able to join as well, including Annie Grimes, third to join and the first black woman officer to spend a full twenty years in service.
She later married, thereby changing her last name to Gilliard, and has recently passed away due to illness on July 4, 2002
6. Opha Mae Johnson
Before she joined the Marines, Opha Mae Johnson worked for the Interstate Commerce Commission. When the Marine Corps Reserve allowed women to join, she was the very first one in line to enlist on August 13, 1918.
Her first duties may have only been as a clerk, managing the records of the over three hundred other women that followed, but she was soon promoted to Sergeant in September of that year, making her the first woman to reach that rank and the highest ranking woman in the Marine Corps during her time there.
At the end of the war, Johnson was one of those removed from active service, but she continued to make her mark as a clerk in the War Department until she retired in 1943.
5. Anne E. Lamb
Anne E. Lamb may not have been the very first black woman to enlist but, as the second black woman to enlist in the Marine Corps the day following Annie Graham, she was one of the first two black women to go into training.
Anne Lamb and Annie Graham had to stand alone in their new position while the world adjusted to this new situation. Back in those days most places would separate blacks from whites and this made some things complicated.
She served her time in the Marine Corps and later married, changing her last name to Ellis.
4. Private Lucille McClarren
While in 1918 women were allowed to take clerical positions in the Marine Corps to free up the men for fighting, it wasn’t until February 13, 1943 that they officially opened for women enlistment.
Private Lucille McClarren was the first woman to take advantage of this, transferring over from the Army to become the first enlisted female Marine that very day.
As the first of over seven hundred women, McClarren became the poster girl for the opportunity, modeling the uniform, and even speaking on a podium with Eleanor Roosevelt to encourage other women to join.
By the time she finished her career she was working as a Secretary in the Pentagon and was even working there during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
She later retired, married, and had a family, telling her stories to her nieces and nephews as they grew older.
3. Angela Salinas
If anyone deserves to be on our list of famous women Marines it is Angela Salinas, the first Hispanic woman to rise to the rank of General.
Salinas enlisted in May of 1974, starting off as a legal services clerk. From there she worked her way up step by step until, on August 2, 2006, she was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, finally being promoted to Major General on May 12, 2010.
Just as impressively, Salinas has a bachelor’s degree in history as well as a master’s degree from the Naval War College.
Salinas retired from the Marine Corps in 2012 after serving for 39 years and has since continued to stay active as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of Southwest Texas.
2. Ruth Cheney Streeter
Ruth Cheney Streeter lived in New Jersey and was the first woman president of her county’s welfare board.
She got her commercial pilot’s license when she was forty-seven years old with the intention of joining the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS). She was rejected five times due to her age, and finally gave up trying to fly and joined the Marines instead.
Streeter became the first woman to become a Major in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1943, and was also the first director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.
When she retired in 1945, she was a Lieutenant Colonel and the Women’s Reserve had over 15,000 women enlisted and over 800 officers.
The year after she retired she was awarded the Legion of Merit for her work as director, and later she was awarded the American Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal as well.
She died of congestive heart failure on September 30, 1990.
1. Ruth Wood
Though little is known about this last woman on our list today of famous women Marines, Ruth Wood has earned her place here as the first of the Women Marine Reservists to serve at the headquarters of the Marine Corps in Washington in 1943.
Born as Ruth Coggin, Ruth married a Master Technical Sergeant Wood in 1945 and by the time World War II came around two of her sons and six of her brothers and brother-in-laws had joined various military branches as well.
When her husband retired in 1986 they moved away from the military life and by the time Ruth died she had gotten to see the first four of their great-grandchildren.
Fun Facts About Female Marines
– Up until 2012, female Marines were unable to serve in a combat role. However, that has since been revised to allow women to choose any MOS (IE jobs) they would like, including Combat MOS like infantry.
– The uniforms for female Marines are relatively similar to those of their male counterparts. The only distinguishing difference is in their “dress blues”, which has an open collar vs. the traditional high collar.
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