A History of Women in the Marine Corps

The United States Marine Corps has a long and proud history that every recruit will learn about when they begin their journey to becoming a United States Marine. While the Marine Corps was founded in 1776, it wasn’t until 1918 that women became a part of the organization’s official history. Since then, the role of women in the Marine Corps has continued to evolve as our Marine women continue to push through barriers and pave the way for their counterparts, old and new, to follow.

The History of Women in the Marine Corps

It all began in 1918, when the Secretary of Navy decreed that women were eligible to enroll in the Marine Corps for clerical duty. The first women credited to joining the Marine Corps was Opha Mae Johnson. Opha Mae’s service began on August 13,1918 during World War I. During that year 300 more women joined the Marine Corps Reserve for clerical duty.

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For the next 100 years, women continued to prove their worth and place in the United States Marines. Here are just a few of the many milestones that they accomplished:


Captain Anne Lentz becomes the first commissioned female officer.
Private Lucille McClarren becomes the first enlisted woman.


T/Sgt Mary Frances Wancheck of Bobtown, Pennsylvania became the first female Marine to rate a “hash mark.” Hash marks are worn on uniforms and indicate length of service.


Both enlisted and officer women were sworn in as regular Marines instead of being considered as part of the Marine Reserves.


Annie Neal Graham becomes the first black female Marine to enlist.


The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve participates in color raising ceremonies at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C.


Staff Sergeant Barbara Olive Barnwell becomes the first female Marine to be awarded the Navy and Marine Corps medal for heroism.


Col. Margaret A. Brewer becomes the first female General in Marine Corps history.


Pfc Christina Fuentes Montenegro,  Pfc Julia Carroll and Pfc Katie Gorz become the first female marines to graduate from the Marine Corps’ enlisted infantry training course.


The first female graduated from the Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course.

These are just a few of the many accomplishments the women in the Marine Corps have made.  Today women continue to define themselves, making up 8.3% of the Corps women have been proving to be an essential part of the Marine Corps.

Training for Women in the Marine Corps

Oscar Company – Marksmanship Training – Nov. 22, 2017
U.S. Marine Corps recruits practice shooting positions on Parris Island, S.C. Recruits spend a week learning and practicing marksmanship fundamentals before shooting live rounds the following week.

Enlisted Women

The first battle begins at boot camp. All enlisted women in the Corps, regardless of geographic location, are sent to Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina for 12 weeks of boot camp training. Boot camp will be the first test for all recruits who wish to earn the title of United States Marine. The mission of MCRD Parris Island is:

“We make Marines by recruiting quality young men and women and transforming them through the foundations of rigorous basic training, our shared legacy, and a commitment to our core values, preparing them to win our nation’s battles in service to the country.”

Part of successfully completing requirements to graduate from boot camp will include passing a Physical Fitness Test (PFT) and a Combat Fitness Test (CFT). Women and men have different qualifications to pass these tests. The female PFT qualifications for enlisted females are as follows:

Age Flexed-Arm Hang Crunches 3-Mile Run
17-26 15 Seconds 50 31:00
27-39 15 Seconds 45 32:00
40-45 15 Seconds 45 33:00
46 15 Seconds 40 36:00
Marine recruits finish crucible, earn title Marine on Parris Island
Recruits repeat the oath of enlistment during an emblem ceremony on Parris Island, S.C. Each recruit earned the Eagle, Globe and Anchor emblem and the title Marine after successfully completing recruit training’s 54-hour culminating event, the Crucible.

Boot camp will be physically and mentally demanding. After graduation at MCRD Parris Island, new Marines will be sent to the School of Infantry where they will further their training based on their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS).

Learn more about how to prepare for Marine boot camp.

Women Officers

For those who wish to become an officer in the Marine Corps, three months of training are required at Officer Candidate School (OCS) in Quantico, Virginia. OCS will screen candidates to ensure that they have what it takes in order to lead Marines and to win battles. The mission of OCS is:

“To educate and train officer candidates in Marine Corps knowledge and skills within a controlled and challenging environment in order to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities required for commissioning as a Marine Corps officer.”

U.S. Marine Candidates participate in an endurance course training exercise at the Officer Candidate School. Candidates must go through three months of intensive training to evaluate and screen individuals for the leadership, moral, mental, and physical qualities required for commissioning as a U.S. Marine Corps officer.

The female PFT qualifications for female officers are as follows:

Pull-Ups Push-Ups Crunches 3-Mile Run
1 34 70 27:00

Upon successfully graduating as an Officer in the United States Marine, training will continue at The Basic School (TBS) and then on to further training based on their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). Learn more about OCS from a successful Female Marine Officer, or by visiting the USMC OCS Blog.

U.S. Marine Corps officer candidates graduate the Officer Candidate School (OCS) at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia.

Women in the Marine Corps Today

Today, women in the Marine Corps continue to push through barriers and pave the path for their female counterparts to follow. The Women Marines Association’s is a non-profit Veteran’s association with a mission to ensure that women’s history as Marines will continue to be told and passed onto a new generation of Marines. With chapters across the country, members strive to help all past, present, and future female Marines. Below are a few videos showcasing the amazing accomplishments our Marines are making.



Learn more on how to prepare before Marine boot camp, or grab one of these books about women in the Marine Corps:

Leading From the Front
When Janey Comes Marching Home: Portraits of Women Combat Veterans
Hesitation Kills

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Author: Nicole at Sandboxx

The daughter of a United States Marine, I grew up with a passion and love for our troops, which led me to pursue a career in a field where I could give back to the military community. In my free time you can find me spending time with my significant other who is currently an Officer in the Marine Corps.

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