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The first woman Marine: In 1918, she couldn’t vote but rushed to serve

By Petula Dvorak
via the Washington Post web site 

The first female Marine?

Not what you may think. Yes, women served as parachute riggers and welders, and eventually became drill sergeants and pilots. But the first woman to join the Marine Corps was the 39-year-old wife of an orchestra conductor.

Opha May JohnsonOpha May Johnson, center, the first woman to join the Marines in 1918, watches as adjustments are made to a World War I uniform being modeled by Pfc. Muriel Albert. (U.S. Marine Corps)Opha May Johnson joined up Aug. 13, 1918 — before she was even allowed to vote.

Almost a century later, the Marines announced Thursday a woman has passed the grueling Infantry Officer Course, long the domain of the toughest male Marines, for the first time.

This still-unidentified woman was tested for 86 days on a course that washes out 25 percent of the men who try it. She hiked for miles in the Mojave Desert and in the mountains, swam laps in all her battle rattle, carried a load of up to 152 pounds for more than nine miles at a three-mile-per-hour pace, and came across a pile of springs, firing bolts, stocks and barrels and — on the spot — assembled them into foreign and American infantry weapons (under an undisclosed time limit). Among other horrors.

Her performance was so jaw-dropping, the Marines announced her halfway point in August.

It was different for the first female Marine 100 years ago — she did not have to hike in the desert. She did take a man’s job.

It was close to the end of World War I when the Marine Corps decided to fill some of the gaps left behind by all the men fighting overseas. In 1918, Johnson was the first of 300 women who showed up to take one of those jobs. They made headlines in newspapers all across the country.

Johnson, born Opha May Jacob in Kokomo, Indiana, was a rapid-fire typist.

Her name is often misspelled, Kara Newcomer, an historian with the Marine Corps History Division, told the Quantico Sentry.

Her middle name usually appears in books and on photos as “Mae,” though it’s spelled like the month, May, Newcomer said.

“We also believe she probably went by her first name alone, based on how she signed her name,” Newcomer said.

A wise decision on her part.

Read the entire article on the Washington Post web site here.

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