Gunfighter reflects on Women’s Equality Day

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jalynn R. Edmon
  • 366th Force Support Squadron
Many people know March as Women’s History Month. Far fewer people know every August 26th is Women’s Equality Day.

On this day in 1920, the 19th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution was put into effect by U.S. Secretary Bainbridge Colby. The 19th Amendment gave all women citizens the right to vote in all American elections.

Although this is frequently cited as the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement, the fight for equality for people of all backgrounds was only beginning. Many states ultimately passed laws that limited the number of minorities and women that could vote in elections. In addition, Native Americans were not granted citizenship until 1924. It would not be until 1965 when the Voting Rights Act would pass legislation, which helped eliminate barriers that prevented such groups from voting. One example of these barriers was the use of literacy tests, which had a disparate impact on minorities and women who came from oppressive and impoverished backgrounds.

The 19th Amendment can be considered a stepping stone in the rights for equal opportunity and treatment. Women’s patriotic service during World War I helped shift public opinion and made the passing of the 19th Amendment possible.

In the Revolutionary War, women were considered nurses and cooks to improve the health of the soldiers. During this time, Deborah Sampson was a woman who portrayed herself as a man to serve in the light infantry. It was not until she was injured that it was discovered she was a woman. Sampson is not a familiar name in military history, but it should be emphasized that her service was acknowledged and she was honorably discharged.

During the Civil War, Dr. Mary Walker was the first woman surgeon in the U.S. Army. Without being asked, she offered to help the Union fight against the Confederate forces. She was captured in 1864 by the Confederate forces and was a prisoner of war for four months. In November of 1865, she became the first woman to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor. Walker is still the only woman to receive the honor.

Many women served as nurses, switchboard operators, and in administrative roles during World War I. Depending on their assignment location, some even saw combat. Approximately 400,000 American women served in support of the armed forces during WWII. Their roles expanded during this time and over 500 died from war-related incidents. In recognition of their achievement, President Harry Truman created the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act on Jun 12, 1948. This act allowed women to serve as permanent, regular military members.

Despite these accomplishments, women were still not allowed to attend U.S. military academies. That changed when President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106 in 1975. The law would pass the House and Senate shortly thereafter, and 300 women enrolled in service academies in the fall of 1976.

As the number of women serving in the military continued to grow, they had yet to serve directly in combat. On April 28, 1993, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, permitted women to serve in combat aviation positions. This marked the first time women would be allowed to become fighter pilots in the Air Force, opening the doors for women like Brigadier General Jeannie Leavitt.

It wasn’t until 2013 when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta ordered the military services to lift the ban on women serving in combat jobs. In August of 2015, two soldiers made history by becoming the first women to graduate from the Army’s Ranger School.

Throughout the years, women have overcome countless obstacles and are still fighting for equality in our society. Women’s Equality Day is much bigger than just granting equal rights to women. Women’s Equality Day is for women of all backgrounds. August 26th comes only once a year, so it should be celebrated to remember the hardships men and women went through to give women equal voices and opportunities in our country.