First Prize, 2016 Naval History Essay Contest: The Women Who Made it Possible
General George Washington’s Continental Army. Her name was Deborah Sampson, and she had disguised herself as a man to take up arms.1 She is the matriarch of women in the U.S. military, and while she became famous in her own time, few present-day Americans know her name.
We have forgotten the names of many of the women who made the most significant contributions to building the world’s finest military. They served when they were not supposed to, both on the battlefield and behind enemy lines, and defied convention and regulation in the military service of the American republic. These women disguised themselves as men and served as infantry soldiers centuries before the Marine Corps would allow women to attempt infantry school. They conducted pre–D-Day reconnaissance missions parachuting in as field intelligence officers decades before U.S. Special Operations Command announced that women could attempt to become Green Berets and SEALs.