For much of human history, most militaries around the world only accepted men. Women, meanwhile, were kept on the sidelines to tend to their families, raise money and supplies for the war effort, and do whatever they could at home to support the men fighting overseas. This was vital work, but some women felt called to the front lines of the war. And while the most prominent combat photographs usually feature men, these rarely-seen images showcase the vital contributions made by women in the armed forces throughout history.
The WAAC dressed to impress
Smartly saluting, these three women are modeling uniform variants of the U.S. Army Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps, often abbreviated to WAAC. This was established in 1942, not long after the U.S. entered World War II. The very next year, the unit’s name was shortened to Woman’s Army Corps, with the “auxiliary” deemed to be redundant.
The groundbreaking Major General Mary E. Clarke
Snapped here in Anniston, Alabama, in 1978, Mary E. Clarke’s a mere brigadier general. But not for long. Shortly afterward, she was promoted to the heady heights of major general, the first woman to achieve this position in the U.S. Army. She’s got her fingers in her ears because she’s at the Fort McClellan Military Police Center & School and there’s live firing training in the background.
Showing the men how it's done
These determined-looking women are part of the U.S. Naval Academy freshman class of 2005. They’re engaged in a grueling 14-hour training exercise known as “Sea Trials,” and it’s a day designed to push them to their limits. In this particular section, they’re required to hang from the rope for a full 60 seconds.
Training for an emergency at Pearl Harbor
These four women are wrestling with a high-pressure fire hose at the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii. For years, researchers believed that it had actually been taken on the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. But though it certainly was taken during WWII, it was actually a training exercise. Still, the bravery of these women isn’t in doubt.