March is Women’s History Month, a month set aside to honor the contributions of women in the United States.
Women have found ways to serve even before they were allowed to enlist in the military, dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War. These women broke the mold, set the path for future generations, and displayed a fierce sense of patriotism. In 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act which established women as a permanent part of the military.
Here are some groundbreaking women who have served and paved the path for future generations:
Dr. Mary Edwards Walker (1832 – 1919)
Walker is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. She was a surgeon, women’s rights advocate, and abolitionist. She was the second woman to graduate from Syracuse Medical College but was not allowed to practice medicine after graduation. During the Civil War, Walker wanted to support the Union’s efforts but was not allowed to enlist. Instead, she became an unpaid volunteer surgeon at the U.S. Patent Office Hospital in Washington. Walker continued to advocate for roles within the War and in 1863 she became the first female U.S. Army surgeon. In April 1864, she was captured and held as a prisoner of war for four months. After the war, she was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Andrew Johnson. But in 1916, her Medal of Honor was taken away after the government reviewed the terms of eligibility. Decades later, President Carter restored the honor in Walker’s name. (Alexander)
During WWI, women served as nurses but were not allowed to fight. Prior to WWII, Eleanor Roosevelt advocated for women’s right to serve. In 1942, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps later called the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), and the Navy’s Women Accepted for Voluntary Service (WAVES) Corps programs were established. The WAC was the only branch that allowed African American women to serve but had capped the placement rates at 10%. Japanese women were not allowed to serve in the WAC until 1943 and the Navy banned Japanese women from service during WWII. Both minority groups faced regular discrimination.
Beverly Bistline (1922-2010)
Beverly Bistline was born August 28, 1922, in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho but spent most of her life in Pocatello. Bistline was part of the WAVES corps and served in aviation mechanics, control tower personnel, intelligence work, and clerical jobs. (Bolstad) Using her “G.I. credits,” she attended the University of Utah and was the 26th woman admitted to the Idaho State Bar. After a period of time in California, Bistline moved back to Idaho to take over her father’s law practice. In 1974, she was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives.
Today, women are serving in all branches, at higher levels of command, and continue to lead the way for the next generation.
The Idaho Women Veterans Memorial will be a place to recognize the camaraderie Idaho’s women veterans share. The Memorial will feature a statue of Carrie French, designed and created by world-renowned artist (and Wyakin supporter) Benjamin Victor.
Carrie French of Caldwell was in the Idaho 116th Brigade Combat Team. She went into the Army straight out of High School. She was known for her positive nature, fierce loyalty, and ability to comfort others. (“Idaho Women Veterans Memorial | ID Veterans Garden”) Carrie was killed on June 5, 2005, by a bomb outside of Kirkuk, Iraq. She was the first Idaho woman to be killed at war.
Support the Idaho Women Veterans Memorial: https://www.idahoveteransgarden.com/idaho-women-veterans-memorial
In Idaho, there are an estimated 10,000 women veterans according to the Idaho Division of Veteran Services. The Wyakin Foundation made it a goal in 2021 to reach more women veterans. By the end of 2022, we expanded our support to 11 women, out of a class of 60.
We know the challenges women veterans face may be different. Together with our partner agencies, we are working to meet women veterans’ needs to empower them in their civilian careers. If you are a woman who has served and you’d like to meet our staff please contact us.
Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Biography: Mary Edwards Walker.” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/mary-edwards-walker. Accessed 16 March 2023.
Bolstad, Erika. “Women of the Century Idaho list: 10 influential women in state history.” USA Today, 13 August 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/in-depth/life/women-of-the-century/2020/08/13/women-century-idaho-list-10-influential-women-state-history/4939943002/. Accessed 16 March 2023.
DeSimone, Danielle. “Over 200 Years of Service: The History of Women in the U.S. Military.” USO.org, 28 February 2023, https://www.uso.org/stories/3005-over-200-years-of-service-the-history-of-women-in-the-us-military. Accessed 16 March 2023.
“Idaho Women Veterans Memorial | ID Veterans Garden.” the Idaho Veterans Garden, https://www.idahoveteransgarden.com/idaho-women-veterans-memorial. Accessed 16 March 2023.
“Women’s History Month.” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/womens-history/womens-history-month. Accessed 16 March 2023.