March is Women’s History Month, the time we set aside to honor the many contributions that women have made to our Nation. The theme of the 2018 Women’s History Month is “NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”
All of you probably know (or maybe are) a woman who has persisted. In the face of discrimination or what seemed to be insurmountable odds, these women have gone on to achieve remarkable things, or simply to open doors that expand opportunities for other women. Their persistence has helped break down barriers, whether in the Army or as a civilian, in the arts, in science, and in life.
Women have played a role in the defense of our nation since its founding. Deborah Sampson became the first American woman to serve in combat when she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Continental Army. “Camp followers,” primarily women who were just outside the battlefield doing cooking and laundry and tending to the wounded, supported the troops during the Civil War. After the Battle of Bull Run, Clara Barton and Dorethea Dix organized a nursing corps to help care for the wounded soldiers.
Approximately 21,000 women served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War I. The Army established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, which was changed to the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. More than 150,000 women served as WACs during World War Two. And “Rosie the Riveter” represented the approximately six million civilian women employed in war material manufacturing during that war.
Today, women make up a majority of the U.S. population at 50.8 percent. They earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees. Additionally, they earn 47 percent of all law degrees and 48 percent of all medical degrees.
About 43 percent of the Federal Government is comprised of women. Serving in the Army’s Total Force is 174,000 of them. Within USACE, we have approximately 10,000 women employees, representing about 30 percent of our workforce. The lower percentage for USACE perhaps reflects the STEM nature of our work; women are still not as represented in STEM career fields.
Within USACE, Col. Debra M. Lewis, now retired, was in the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980 and later served as commander and district engineer of the Gulf Region Division’s Central District, where she was responsible for engineering and construction management support of deployed forces and Iraqi reconstruction in Baghdad and Al Anbar provinces, Iraq.
Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham became the first woman to be promoted to a general officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jan. 27, 2012, in the Corps’ Washington, D.C. headquarters. In September 2011, Burcham became the first woman selected to command a Corps of Engineers division when she took command of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division located in Cincinnati. She retired in 2016.
It’s easy to forget that we are only a few generations removed from women obtaining the right to vote in the United States. Yet with or without women’s suffrage, they have been side by side with men in building and sustaining our Nation. They have persisted.
Thank you, all Southwestern Division women, for what you do every day to support and lead our organization.
Paul E. Owen, P.E.
Brigadier General, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Commander, Southwestern Division