BPW Foundation's Women Misbehavin' Blog

Well behaved women never make history

Remembering the Women During Black History Month

Posted by YWM on February 14, 2012

Black Women In the Military

 Revolutionary War

Phillis Wheatley

Not only did African-American females serve as spies during the Revolutionary War, they also found innovative ways to assist. According to Lucy Terry, Black women disguised themselves as men fighting side by side against the British. Phillis Wheatley literate Black woman, used her writing ability to praise and express appreciation for General George Washington during the Revolutionary War. He showed his appreciation by inviting her to visit him at his headquarters in February of 1776.

War of 1812

The War of 1812 was basically a naval war. Female assistance was limited to making bandages and tending the sick and wounded sailors. Additionally, Black women were able to take care of the farms so that the White men could leave their homes and families and go off to war knowing things would run smoothly.

Civil War

Harriet Tubman

While we know Harriet Tubman for her leadership and bravery in the fight against slavery, she also served as a Union spy, an unpaid soldier, a volunteer nurse, and a freedom fighter.

Another former slave, Susan King Taylor, became famous for her volunteer service during the Civil War. Taylor met Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and volunteered as a nurse and launderer for Black Civil War troops while traveling with her husband’s unit. She formed the Boston Branch of the Women’s Relief Corps after the war. Her 1902 memoir is the only written record of Black Civil War volunteer nurses.

Spanish-American War

Black American females again played the role of nurse. Over 75 percent of all deaths during the Spanish-American War resulted from typhoid and yellow fever. Black female volunteer nurses were told that they were immune to the diseases because their skin was darker and thicker. As a result became casualties of the disease when they returned home. Segreagation meant that Whites never knew of the high casualty rate.

World War I

The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses founded in 1909, provided leadership and direction for the women’s abilities and service. In 1917, the co-founder of the Red Cross urged Black nurses to enroll in the American Red Cross. Despite not allowed to join until November 1918, two months before World War I ended African-American women continued making bandages, taking over jobs that men held so they could be soldiers, working in hospitals and troop centers, and serving in other relief organizations.

World War II

It was not until World War II (1942) that any women were officially allowed to serve in the armed forces in great numbers. The Army had the Women’s Army Corps (WAC); the Navy had Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); and the Coast Guard had the SPARS. The majority of African-American women served in the WAC. They served in segregated units, as did the African-American men. Out of the 271,000 women serving during this period, only 4,000 were African-American women.

Desert Storm

African-American women served with distinction during Operation Desert Storm, as officers, noncommissioned officers, and enlisted soldiers. Of the 35,000 females who went to Desert Storm, an estimated 40 percent of them were African-Americans.

LT Phoebe Jeter, who headed an all-male platoon, ordered 13 Patriots fired (anti-missile missiles), destroying at least two Scuds (Iraqi surface-to-surface missiles). Another African-American woman, CPT Cynthia Mosely, commanded Alpha Company, 24th Support Battalion Forward, 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), a 100-person unit that supplied everything from fuel to water to ammunition. Her unit resupplied fuel for all of the forward brigades because it was closest to the front lines.

Alls of these women paved paved the way for those serving today.  In 1993, Black women comprised 33 percent of Army female recruits, 22 percent of Navy female recruits, 17 percent of Marine Corps female recruits and 18 percent of Air Force female recruits. Today 30.3 percent of the military is African-American women; approximately 33.6 percent serve as enlisted, and 13.1 percent serve as commissioned and warrant officers.

Check back for more information on Black women in the military during Black History Month


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