Women have long answered the call to defend and protect this country, yet many of their contributions have largely been unrecognized and unrewarded. During the national designation of the month of February as Black History Month, the CalVet Women Veterans Division is sending a special message to recognize and elevate the invaluable contributions of black women as service members and veterans throughout history and today.
The first documented role of an African American woman serving her country in the Union Army was Susie King Taylor – a slave who became a Civil War nurse, cook, and laundress. As an educated woman, she also established a handful of schools for freed slaves and soldiers, as well as their children. Even though she was never paid for her military service, Taylor was proud of her important work, memorializing her thoughts in a journal, “I was very happy to know my efforts were successful in camp, and also felt grateful for the appreciation of my service. I gave my services willingly for four years and three months without receiving a dollar. I was glad, however, to be allowed to go with the regiment, to care for the sick and afflicted comrades.”
Prior to the establishment of women’s auxiliary units in the armed forces, and prior to their legal integration, women disguised themselves as men just for the opportunity to serve.
Cathay Williams was the first woman to do this when she joined the U.S. Regular Army in 1866, serving three years in the 38th US Infantry. Williams also became the only recorded African American woman to join the distinguished Buffalo Soldiers.
During WWII, the first all-female African American unit was established within the Women’s Army Corps in 1944. This unit was assigned overseas to take on Herculean administrative efforts, which shattered the contemporary stereotypes of what African American women were capable of and how they were portrayed in popular culture. Unfortunately, their groundbreaking efforts and subsequent return to the U.S. were met with little fanfare as they were disbanded.
In today’s military, African American women are now commanding and training U.S. airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines in all capacities, in combat and in peacetime. Thirty-six percent of women veterans are from the Post-9/11 era and of that number; just over 23 percent are African American women under 45 years old. Women are serving in higher numbers in the military today than at any time in the history of the U.S. Military, and African American women are serving in higher numbers than ever before.
In honor of Black History Month, please join us in recognizing the important contributions of African American women throughout our military history, and help us support and appreciate women veterans and those serving in the military now:
- Become a part of the “Herstory” campaign. The mission of the campaign is to seek out, record, and tell the history of Black Military Women. Learn more at http://www.aapf.org/black-women-veterans.
- Unsung Heroes Living History Project salutes and preserves the legacy of African Americans in the military in multiple ways. Learn more at https://www.unsungheroeslhp.org/.
- Make your story part of American history. The Women’s Memorial in Arlington is dedicated to the history preservation of women in the military. Learn more at https://www.womensmemorial.org/.