Opha May Johnson: A Tribute

The history of women in the United States armed forces is a long and complicated one. Even before they were allowed to officially enlist in the services, women still contributed in supporting the defense of the nation as spies, nurses and even secret soldiers. During the revolutionary war, Prudence “Prue” Cummings Wright, who had just lost two children, became leader of “Mrs. David Wright’s Guard. However, for the most part these women were not officially recognized to be members of the branches in which they served. That changed with one woman Opha May Johnson who was the first known woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. She joined the Marine Corps Reserve in 1918, officially becoming the first female Marine.



Johnson was born in Kokomo, Indiana in 1879. It was there that she graduated from Wood’s Commercial College and was expected to lead a typical life for a woman of the time. On August 13, 1918, Johnson joined the Marine Corps Reserve during World War I. At that time, Johnson enlisted along with 300 other women. (Due to her good fortune, she happened to be the first in line to do so.) Although her main duties as a Marine were clerical in nature, Johnson put into her work the same amount of zeal that she had used her whole life up to that point.

Her Legacy

Unfortunately, much of the progress that women in the armed services had made up to that point was slowly eroded as the Marine Corps began to steadily dis-enroll women who had enlisted to help out during the war. However, a few decades later Congress would pass the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. This act acknowledges the trail blazing women like Johnson and others and is behind the fact that there are now approximately 1.4 million women serving in the U.S. armed forces including 14, 000 in the Marines.

Johnson was all about demonstrating her pride in the greatest organization in the world which now benefits greatly from the contributions of both sexes in the defense of our country. You can further demonstrate your pride in the Corps by purchasing one of our USMC novelties and USMC home décor items. Our gift items are quality made in the USA and are an attractive way to add a special touch to your home whether you reside in on or off base housing.