Veterans Day: Women and War Throughout History

by Delanee Ensley


Veterans Day is an important holiday dedicated to celebrating those who have served our country, including the women who stayed behind the scenes or risked their lives to help those on the frontlines. Though we don’t know all of their names or their stories, they helped to protect and serve our country.


Rosie the Riveter

“We Can Do It!” This quote has become popularized for positive affirmation, but also because of the woman behind it. Rosie the Riveter was a campaign during World War II to get women to participate in the war efforts. Though she was a fictional woman, her face became one of the most successful recruitment tools throughout history and is still an iconic image today. According to History, over 310,000 women worked in the aircraft industry, which was 65% of the workforce. Though there is no way of knowing this for sure, it is highly believed that the Rosie the Riveter campaign recruited a major portion of female warriors.


Loretta Perfectus Walsh

During the beginning stages of World War I, the military was having trouble getting men to enlist, so the Navy decided to start enlisting women. According to the Department of Defense, they only had permission to recruit one woman, hoping that it would entice other men to enlist. “On March 21, 1917, after procuring and modifying a male chief petty officer’s uniform, Loretta Walsh made history by enlisting in the Naval Reserve -- the first woman to officially enlist in the military, and also the first female chief petty officer.” The news of a woman enlisting made the news, and there was a dramatic enlistment of men. For the first time, the Navy and the Marines allowed women to enlist without being nurses. She became the first of 12,000 women to serve during the war.


Deborah Sampson

The year was 1782, and as the Revolutionary War raged on, Deborah Sampson decided it was time to do her part. Instead of being a nurse, she decided to take a more drastic step, and she disguised herself as a man. According to the National Women’s History Museum, she was part of a raid that led to the capture of 15 men who supported the British. During her time, she dug trenches, endured cannon fire, and participated in many more dangerous tasks. Her true identity was not discovered until she became ill during a pandemic and had to be taken to a hospital. This led to her being honorably discharged. After her stint in the war, she got married and lived as a farmer's wife. Starting in 1802, she toured for a year, telling others about her experiences. After her death, her husband fought to get her military pension, and though he died before he was able to inherit it, she was the only woman during the Revolutionary War to receive a full military pension.


Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker is one of the most famous African American performers in France, however, that is not the only thing she is famous for. According to the National Women’s History Museum, Baker started her dancing career at fifteen when she ran off to join a theatre troupe. This led her to move to New York City and eventually Paris. When the beginning of WWII started and Hitler invaded France, she decided to help the war efforts. Baker had been performing in Paris for many Nazi soldiers and would overhear a lot of interesting intel. She would then take that intel to the French military, writing her findings with invisible ink on music sheets. For her efforts, she gained French military honors, being the first American-born woman to do so.


Cathay Williams

Cathay Williams was born into slavery in Independence, Missouri. However, she refused to let this define her. According to the National Park Service, during the beginning of the Civil War, the Union forces treated captured slaves as contraband and forced them into the military. They would be forced to cook, do laundry, and help nurses as they would see fit. Williams served as a cook and did laundry during this time. Williams traveled with the infantry all over the country. In 1866, Williams disguised herself as a man and enlisted under the name William Cathay. Shortly after she enlisted, she contracted smallpox, joining up with her unit shortly after. Her previous sickness or just the strain of fighting led her real identity to be discovered and an honorable discharge. Williams was the first African American woman to enlist and the first documented woman to enlist in the Army.

Many brave women, and men, have fought to keep our country safe and free. Though these are only a few, many have sacrificed their own freedom and lives to keep the rest of us safe. I want to thank all of the amazing Veterans who have risked everything for their country.