All of huntington Beach

Women's History: Women In Service

By City Archivist, Kathie Schey

American women have proudly served since the Revolutionary War. At first, traveling with soldiers and tending to their needs, over the following century, they became valued supporters, fundraisers, and even spies – some, even thousands, became combatants by disguising themselves as men. 

During the Civil War, Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, led nurses onto the battlefields to help treat the wounded. The U.S. Army Nurses Corps (ANC) was formally created with Dorothea Dix as its first Superintendent. Later, during WWI, the ranks of military nurses grew from 403 to more than 3,000 in a single year, many of whom were deployed to dangerous locations in Europe.

As one author has observed, “WWI is also notable because it was the first time women – who did not yet have the right to vote – were allowed to serve in the U.S. military openly.”

During WWII, women were welcomed into all branches of military service.  The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACS) was joined by the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS), a legendary cadre of women who served as ferry pilots, flying planes to where they were needed.  The first female judge in Huntington Beach who became the first female judge in Orange County – Celia Ward Young Baker – was a member. The Marines established the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), followed by the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and the Coast Guard’s Reserve named the “SPARS.”

Women were integrated into the permanent branches during the Korean War.  Their role was further cemented in 1973 when pregnant women were allowed to remain in service, ensuring their military careers. In 2013, they were allowed to serve in direct combat. Today, nearly 20 percent of our active-duty force are women. 

At last count, Huntington Beach is home to the largest per capita concentration of veterans in Orange County.  Many are members of American Legion Post 133, one of the longest continuously serving posts in the nation. The Post is supported by the Auxiliary, founded here in the early 1930s.  The Auxiliary works to help all veterans.  Female veterans can join the Post, the Auxiliary, or both.  Services of all kinds are offered, primarily through the Veteran’s Resource Center in our Central Library.

You’ll find several female faces as you drive our streets and look up to see our incredible “Hometown Heroes” banners.  There can be no greater Women’s History Month focus than women in service and those who work to support them.