By Lindsay Burton ’19
“Apprehension would be the attitude towards women currently prevailing (in the Army)…I understand approximately 85% of the Corps of Cadets are against us coming.” In 1976, Marjorie Anne Sullivan, the first woman from CMC Army ROTC to attend West Point Military Academy, echoed a sentiment felt by many of the first women who would take on the next frontier in gender equality: integration into the armed forces. It’s a frontier that women are still pioneering in the year 2017. Since the 1972 opening of ROTC to women, I am the 29th woman at Claremont McKenna College to go through the program.
Women have always served in the United States Army in some capacity, starting as nurses, cooks, and seamstresses in the American Revolutionary War. During World War I, more than 25,000 women served in various roles in the Army war effort. With America’s entrance into World War II, the Army created the Women’s Army Corps, which opened up an array of new fields to women in an attempt to free men to fight.
Women could work in military intelligence, maintenance, supply, cryptography, and even service flight, as the WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots) became the first women to fly military aircraft. After the war, President Truman signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act and issued Executive Order 9981, allowing the permanent presence of women in the American armed forces. In June 1949, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) opened to train recent female college graduates and commission them as second lieutenants into WAC, preceding female involvement in the mainstream Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). In 1972, women were permitted to join the ROTC. In 1976, President Gerald Ford opened service academies to women. West Point Military Academy admitted Marjorie Anne Sullivan, then an ROTC cadet in CMC’s program.
Hailing from my hometown of Redlands, California, she responded to initial harsh criticism with four words: “I can cut it,” but later amended her statement, arguing: “'I can cut it' isn’t a good phrase. I can make it. I wouldn’t be going if I couldn’t. I have too much at stake.”
Also in 1976, Claremont Men’s College became a co-ed institution. The first CMC female to participate in the ROTC program was also among the first female graduates of CMC: Deborah Hasty, Class of 1978.
Sexism has been a challenge for ROTC women. Jennifer Miller ‘97, number eight at CMC, recalled one cadre member making a sexually suggestive comment to her as she warned him against stepping into a hole in the ground.
Marisa Walter '98 (Number ten), recounted how, as a newly commissioned Air Defense Artillery Second Lieutenant, she quickly picked up on the rumblings from the men calling her “the fresh meat.” Walter would not stand for such objectification, and made certain the men knew who outranked who. “I immediately put them down at PT (Physical Training). I made sure that they knew who was the boss.”
Logistically, the United States Army was ill-prepared for the integration of women. Jennifer Miller experienced this when she attended Advanced Camp in 1996, where women were required to sleep in the cleaning closets of the barracks so the men could fill the bunks of the main barrack rooms and where one bathroom, made up of toilets with no dividers, troughs for urine, and communal showers, was shared by both men and women.
Today, more women are joining the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps than ever before. Of the 274,000 cadets across college campuses, approximately 20% are female. The CMC Company has four female cadets: Emily Nee '17, Mia Prine '20, Hannah Alderete '20, and myself. On May 13, 2017, Emily Nee, the Company Commander for Claremont McKenna, will commission as a Second Lieutenant into the United States Army, making her the 28th CMC woman to do so. Emily explained that while she may not face the same gendered stigmas Marjorie Anne Sullivan did, she does “have to learn the same lessons that they did about how to lead as a woman.”
Nee wants the CMC ROTC and the 5C Community to keep better records of women who go through the program. This would assist in developing “mentorship in order to understand the art of leading as a woman in an organization comprised mostly of males.” Despite the history of women taking backseat roles, Nee pointed out that “our country demands that women take center stage as leaders in the Army. This can only be accomplished if we start building connections between women so that we can stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.”
As the women of the Claremont McKenna College Army ROTC, we will press on, because we can cut it. No, better yet, we can make it.