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Marines on Campus
First Women Officers in Marine Corps History

 
Major Brewster Rhoades and Warrant Officer Edwards join the first class of female officer cadets for their first official photo. Courtesy MHC Archives (23)
 
New lieutenants receive their bars. Courtesy MHC Archives (24)
 
 
 

U.S. Marines Train at Mount Holyoke
The first class of women Marines arrived on campus in March, 1943 and became the first women cadets sworn into the U.S. Marine Corps. Under the command of Major E. Hunter Hurst, who was transferred from Pensacola, Florida Air Training Station. He was assisted by Major Brewster Rhoades and Captain Philip McArdle, the former drill master of the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, who stated that the physical training regimen for the recruits would be “tough.”(25)

The Recruits
The recruits came from different backgrounds and had been employed in a cross section of civilian jobs including teaching, secretarial and clerical work, and personnel training. Other professions represented were those of law, engineering, chemistry, meteorology, liaison work and interior decorating. These recruits would become the first female officers in the U.S. Marine Corps.(26)

First Lady Visits
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Mount Holyoke in March, 1943, specifically to view the Training Centers for the Marines and Waves.(27) During the visit, one of many she made to the Mount Holyoke campus in a period spanning three decades, she watched the cadet's parade down College Street and later addressed both students and cadets jointly in Chapin Auditorium.(28)

“What man can do, woman can do."
This was theme for all cadets in the service training centers at Mount Holyoke and Smith. A secondary theme for the Marines was “Be a Marine, Free a Marine to Fight.” The four month long course for Marines included a month of indoctrination during which the Marines studied the history and organization of the Marine Corps. They began their first month as buck privates and were promoted to cadet after finishing that segment of training. The next three months they studied Naval History and Strategy, Communications and Administration.(29)

First Graduation
On April 23, 1943, the first class of women Marine officers graduated. The group included five First Lieutenants and six Second Lieutenants who were immediately assigned to active duty. On May 3, 1943, a large graduation ceremony was held at Mount Holyoke College that included all the service branches represented on campus. This group included 54 Marines, of whom 12 were First Lieutenants, 85 WAVES, and 46 SPARS, the women’s auxiliary of the Coast Guard. The SPARS were sworn in as Coast Guard cadets and re-assigned to the Coast Guard Academy at New London, Connecticut for further training.(30)

On The Job
The women trained for active service with two possible duties after training, staff or line. Staff officers had jobs similar to civilian jobs but with military discipline. These were less demanding than a Line officer jobs that required living at a military station and being responsible for the activities and training of enlisted personnel. The women Marines went on to replace men in procurement centers, in administrative and supervisory duties, in personnel offices and as instructors. Some were posted to special assignments.(31)

Saying Farewell
Later that same year, in order to consolidate training, the women’s Marine training center was transferred to Camp LeJeune, North Carolina. Mt. Holyoke College received a special commendation from the Secretary of Defense for its participation in the war effort and the training of these patriotic young women.(32) To say farewell to Mt. Holyoke College, the full complement of Marines held their last muster at Mary Lyons grave where they placed a floral wreath in her honor.(33)

Atlas Home Page Back to MHC Goes to War Final Muster Majors New Cadets
Buck Privates New Lieutenants First Lady Training Begins