May 29, 2012

Reflections on Women's Contributions this Memorial Day

As we reflect upon this national holiday, you might like to consider how to honor women this Memorial Day and encourage you to think about how women have served our country in many ways.

Beginning with the American Revolution and continuing to the present, women have always volunteered in defense of our nation.  Women have played a key role in the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and beginning with World War I, women for the first time began to serve overseas – those who were not nurses were allowed to enlist in the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard (1917).  Over 24,000 women served in this war.

From 1942-1945, while men fought in the battlefront of World War II, over 18 million women filled the civilian and defense positions created is the country's shift to wartime productions (remember “Rosie the Riveter?).

Nationally, the number of women who served in the Persian Gulf War (Desert Storm) was 41,000, and over 200,000 have served to-date in Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom. 

As of September 2009, more than 1.8 million living women veterans had served in the U.S. military.  The percentage of veterans who are female has increased by more than 25% in recent years; in 2000, 6.1% of living veterans were women, and currently are 8% of the veteran population.  This number is expected to rise to 9.0% by 2013 and 15% by 2035.

Women in Military Service for America reports there are 15,084 female veterans in Iowa, roughly 6.5% of all Iowa veterans.  The median age for U.S. women Veterans was 48 years old (46 for non-Veteran women), 23% of who were divorced, which is nearly double the percentage of non-Veteran women (12%) divorced in the United States.  It is estimated that about 8% of sheltered homeless veterans are female, a number that has been increasing since 2000.

Drake University graduate, Kirsten A. Holmstedt, began researching women serving in combat in 2003, and authored 2 books, Band of Sisters, covering the roles, challenges, and accomplishments of women on the battlefields of Iraq.  Her second book, Girls Come Marching Home, digs into the racism, sexual harassment, and drugs, as well as the difficulties and challenges when they return stateside.

Women in the military is just one of the many issues of importance to women and to our community, so please take time to honor the women who have so bravely served our country this Memorial Day.

To learn more about the author:

To learn more about the history of women in the military:

PS - If you haven’t yet visited the meaningful exhibit on Iowa Women in the Military, please visit the Fort Des Moines Museum on Des Moines’ south side.