Women’s History Month: A Brief History of Women in the Military and Police

The history of women in the United States is incredibly diverse, and women have come so far in regard to rights and roles! In honor of Women’s History month, I’d like to highlight just a few of the areas that women have played a role in over the course of history—namely in the areas of the military and policing.


The role of women in the military has evolved over centuries and across cultures. While women have always played a role in supporting military efforts, their participation in combat has been limited until recent times. We will briefly explore the history of women in the military from ancient times to the present day.

watercolor painting of a medieval female archer on horseback

The history of women in the military dates back to ancient times (~1300 B.C.) when women played supportive roles in various military campaigns. For example, in ancient Greece, women were responsible for maintaining the home front, including raising children, managing finances, and running estates. During wartime, women would take on additional duties, such as providing food and supplies to soldiers and working in hospitals to care for the wounded. Although not as common, there are historical examples of women fighting in ancient Grecian wars such as Epipole of Carystus who fought in the Trojan war (though was later stoned to death).

In medieval times, women continued to support the military effort in various ways. They provided food, shelter, and medical care to soldiers, and some women even fought alongside men. Joan of Arc (1412-1431) is perhaps the most famous example of a woman who fought in medieval battles. She led the French army to several victories against the English during the Hundred Years’ War.

Oil painting of Joan of Arc.
Oil painting of Joan of Arc.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, women continued to play supportive roles in the military. They worked as nurses, laundresses, cooks, and seamstresses. Some women even disguised themselves as men to fight in wars. Despite these efforts, their contributions were often overlooked and undervalued. During World War I, women in several countries, including the U.S., were recruited to play a more significant role by serving in non-combat positions, such as nurses, clerks, mechanics, and telephone operators. In some cases, women even served as spies and resistance fighters. Despite their contributions, women were still not allowed to serve in combat roles in Western militaries.

During World War II in the U.S., the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was established in 1942, allowing women to serve in a variety of non-combat roles. Over 150,000 women served in the WAC during World War II. Similarly, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) was established in the United Kingdom, allowing women to serve in roles such as aircraft mechanics, electricians, and wireless operators. In 1948, the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act was passed in the U.S., which allowed women to serve in the military on a permanent basis.

Despite these advancements, women were still not allowed to serve in combat roles in most western countries. This changed in 2013, when the United States lifted the ban on women serving in combat units. Other countries, such as Australia (2011), Canada (1982-89), and Israel (1962, though primarily serving roles outside of active combat), had already allowed women to serve in combat roles prior to this.

Female ruck

Today, women serve in militaries around the world in a wide range of roles and positions, including combat units, special operations forces, and leadership positions. However, challenges still exist for women in the military, including issues of gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and barriers to advancement. Overall, the history of women in the military is one of progress and change, as women have overcome significant obstacles to gain equal opportunities and recognition for their contributions to their countries’ defense.

The history of women in the military is a long and varied one. While women have always played a role in supporting the military, their contributions have often been overlooked and undervalued. Over time, women have gained more recognition and have been allowed to serve in combat roles. Today, women serve alongside men in every branch of the U.S. military, and their contributions are essential to the success of military operations. Women make up 17.3% of active duty U.S. military personnel and 21.4% of National Guard and reserve forces.


Women have been serving as police officers for more than a century, but it was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that women began to break into U.S. law enforcement in significant numbers. We will explore the history of women in police work, the challenges they have faced,
and the progress that has been made.

historic photo of a group of female law enforcement officers

The first known female police officer in the U.S. was Alice Stebbins Wells, who was hired by the Los Angeles Police Department in 1910. However, it was not until the 1960s and 1970s that women began to enter law enforcement in greater numbers. The Civil Rights Act of 1964
prohibited employment discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion, or national origin, which opened up opportunities for women in law enforcement.

Women in police work have faced numerous challenges over the years, including discrimination, harassment, and physical fitness requirements designed for men that often were not clearly related to on-the-job expectations. For many years, formal and informal barriers resulted in women often being restricted to desk jobs, other non-patrol positions, and from certain units, such as SWAT or K-9.

Despite the challenges, women have made significant progress in law enforcement. Today, women make up a growing percentage of police officers, detectives, and other law enforcement personnel. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, women made up 13.3% of full-time sworn law enforcement officers in 2022. Though women are serving in more active policing roles the total percentage of women police officers has only increased by 1% from 1970.

five female law enforcement officers

Many police departments have taken steps to recruit and retain more women in law enforcement. These efforts include outreach programs, flexible work schedules, and fitness standards that take into account any physical differences between men and women as well as being directly tied to on-the-job expectations.

The benefits of having more women in law enforcement are numerous. Women bring unique skills and perspectives to the job, such as problem-solving, empathy, and communication skills. They are also more likely to de-escalate volatile situations, use non-violent
tactics when dealing with suspects, and receive fewer complaints.

Even though women have made significant progress in police work over the past few decades, there is still much work to be done. Police departments must continue to recruit and retain more women, and they must ensure that women are treated fairly and given equal opportunities to advance in their careers. By doing so, police departments can create a more diverse and effective law enforcement community that better serves our communities.

It is apparent that women have had an incredible impact on our world, but also more importantly, women have impacted how they are viewed in society through their military and police work. While women are far less frequently seen in both areas, there have been amazing
strides in just a comparatively short period of time. It is exciting to see the progress made, and the opportunities that lie ahead.

Known as “the eclectic one,” it’s probably easier to tell you what she hasn’t done. Meghan is an accomplished professional, consultant, wife, competitive shooter, researcher, writer, proud Army mother, and instructor. Her day job keeps her quite busy, but in the evenings and weekends, you are likely to find her outside on adventures with her horses, teaching a wide range of firearms classes, hosting shooting events, practicing fine art, and building a weird set of emergency skills that may or may not come in handy someday. There is no question she’s beneficial to have on a trivia team and is likely to be high up on anyone’s zombie survival lists. You can follow her on her Instagram account (@SmackRackandRoll) which is a play on words with firearms but also incorporates her former roller derby moniker from an internationally competitive team.

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