Women in the United States Marines
World War I
Opha May Johnson was the first woman to enlist in the Marines. She joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1918, officially becoming the first female Marine. From then until the end of World War I, 305 women enlisted in the Marines.
World War II
The Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943. Ruth Cheney Streeter was its first director. Over 20,000 women Marines served in World War II, in over 225 different specialties, filling 85 percent of the enlisted jobs at Headquarters Marine Corps and comprising one-half to two-thirds of the permanent personnel at major Marine Corps posts. Bea Arthur served in this capacity during the war. However, it was not until after World War II, in 1948, that the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 gave women permanent status in the Regular and Reserve forces of the Marines.
The Marine Corps Women's Reserve was mobilized for the first time in August 1950 for the Korean War, eventually reaching peak strength of 2,787 active-duty women Marines. Most women Marines served as part of the clerical and administrative staff.
In 1967 Master Sergeant Barbara Dulinsky became the first female Marine to serve in a combat zone in Vietnam. At the peak of the Vietnam War, there were approximately 2,700 women Marines on active duty, serving both stateside and overseas.
Women in the Marines since 1972
Frontiero v. Richardson, 411 U.S. 677 (1973), was a landmark Supreme Court case which decided that benefits given by the military to the family of service members cannot be given out differently because of sex.
In 1991 the Tailhook scandal occurred, in which Marine Corps (and Navy) aviators were accused of sexually assaulting 83 women (and 7 men) at the Tailhook convention in Las Vegas.
Before the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was enacted in 1993, lesbians and bisexual women (and gay men and bisexual men) were banned from serving in the military. In 1993 the "Don't Ask Don't Tell" policy was enacted, which mandated that the military could not ask servicemembers about their sexual orientation. However, until the policy was ended in 2011 service members were still expelled from the military if they engaged in sexual conduct with a member of the same sex, stated that they were lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and/or married or attempted to marry someone of the same sex.
On April 28, 1993, combat exclusion was lifted from aviation positions by Les Aspin, permitting women to serve in almost any aviation capacity.
In 1994, the Pentagon declared:
Service members are eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they are qualified, except that women shall be excluded from assignment to units below the brigade level whose primary mission is to engage in direct combat on the ground.
That policy also excluded women being assigned to certain organizations based upon proximity to direct combat or "collocation" as the policy specifically referred to it. According to the Army, collocation occurs when, "the position or unit routinely physically locates and remains with a military unit assigned a doctrinal mission to routinely engage in direct combat."
In 2013 Leon Panetta removed the military's ban on women serving in combat, overturning the 1994 rule. Panetta's decision gave the military services until January 2016 to seek special exceptions if they believed any positions must remain closed to women. The services had until May 2013 to draw up a plan for opening all units to women and until the end of 2015 to actually implement it. In 2015 Joseph Dunford, the commandant of the Marine Corps, recommended that women be excluded from competing for certain front-line combat jobs. That year a U.S. official confirmed that the Marine Corps had requested to keep some combat jobs open only to men. However, in December 2015, Defense Secretary Ash Carter stated that starting in 2016 all combat jobs would open to women. In March 2016, Ash Carter approved final plans from military service branches and the U.S. Special Operations Command to open all combat jobs to women, and authorized the military to begin integrating female combat soldiers "right away."
It was announced on June 30, 2016 that, beginning on that date, otherwise qualified United States service members could not any longer be discharged, denied reenlistment, involuntarily separated, or denied continuation of service because of being transgender (including but not limited to transgender women).
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- Technically, the case was decided under the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause, not under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, since the latter applies not to the federal government but to the states. However, because Bolling v. Sharpe, through the doctrine of reverse incorporation, made the standards of the Equal Protection Clause applicable to the federal government, it was for practical purposes an addition not to due process, but rather to equal protection jurisprudence.
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