Origins of Service
American women have always found unique ways to serve with the United States Army. In the American Revolution and during the Civil War women known as “camp followers” helped to provide basic needs, such as cooking and laundering, that the Army was unable to do for itself. Women also provided support in unconventional ways by stepping outside societal norms. Some disguised themselves as men and served as soldiers while others ventured into professional positions, such as doctors, publishers, or government officials, for example. Women’s roles in the military were formally recognized in the early twentieth century when the Army Nurse Corps was established in 1901. Despite the varied nature of their work, these women all shared a dedication and willingness to serve their country’s needs.
Finding A Way to Serve - Cathay Williams
Cathay Williams disguised herself as a man, changed her name to William Cathay and joined the Army in 1866. She joined the 38th United States Colored Infantry—a group of distinguished fighters later given the name “buffalo soldiers.” She was discharged after a period of two years, having contracted smallpox and been revealed to be a woman.
Meet the “Hello Girls”
The Signal Corps had difficulty providing reliable communications, at home and abroad, for an Army of four million soldiers. General Pershing, Commander, Army Expeditionary Forces requested that American bilingual telephone operators be sent as soon to France as possible. In March 1918 the first Signal Corps Female Telephone Operators Unit arrived in France. They were colloquially known as the “Hello Girls”.
The Global Influenza Pandemic
As World War I was nearing an end, a deadly virus spread across the world. In a mere two years, one fifth of the world’s population was infected—between twenty and forty million people. Army nurses, doctors, and various other medical staff bravely faced the dangers inherent in caring for infected military personnel.