My View: How the Women’s Suffrage Movement impacts women in military today


This picture shows the women of the “Six Triple Eight”, the Army unit comprising all African American women, who were tasked with sorting through two years of backlogged mail during World War II. (Photo courtesy of Army.mil)

By Spc. Jesse Elbouab, 133rd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted is to be a Soldier, or a Marine to be exact. As a little girl with big dreams, more often than not I would get the traditional response of, “the Marines are NOT for girls.” Or, “You have no business doing that.”

Some days it would discourage me, while other days it became my driving force. I eventually sided to remain positive, and today I can reflect on this change in my history as it relates to our nation’s heritage.

This month marks the 100th anniversary of ratifying the 19th Amendment into the US Constitution.

Once affirmed, this law ended the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the US and provided women the right to have a voice, or vote, for the first time in our history.

As I reflected on this moment in history, I tried to imagine the young women of the era and the hopelessness they must have felt. Now, I am thankful for these women. They fought for their rights and the rights of the generations to come. They are the pioneers that gave girls like me the guts to just go for anything. 

“We cannot afford to not have 100% of our population able to contribute,” says Brig. Gen. Charles M. Walker, Chief of Staff. “Women now hold the majority of our population; it would be insane if we didn’t have a society that valued all perspectives. We must allow anyone who can contribute to sitting at the table to provide input, guidance, and leadership.”

Spc. Jesse Elbouab of the 133rd Mobile Detachment prepares for individual weapons qualification at Fort Knox, Ky., April 2019. (photo courtesy of Kentucky National Guard Public Affairs Office)

It is my opinion that this inclusive thinking made the US Military the most diverse and powerful force in the world. Undeniably, this contribution and progression began with a handful of women refusing to take a seat among standing men.

“By virtue, women bring the natural ability to lead via their leadership roles and experiences in the household. And women bring these assets to the table in the military,” said Sgt. Maj. Janet Timberlake, a civilian contractor at Boone National Guard Center and Military Funeral Honors State Coordinator. “This adds to the male perspective and ensures a diverse leadership core.”

Though we developed a culture of respect and are mindful of the values that women bring, it is essential for us not to become complacent from the virtues of our leading ladies of the past.

When a woman’s presence was significant throughout history, her work may still go unnoticed. It is from a bias against the capabilities of women that prevents us from evolving into the most inclusive force in the world.

“We still accept a lot of bad thinking in our culture in the form of implicit bias and microaggressions,” said Brig. Gen. Walker. “That is critical because we don’t understand what is going on in the back of our brain when we allow things we pick up over our lifetime, [such as] cultural experiences, and background, influence how we treat people and what we expect of them.”

Implicit bias, unknowingly, can translate into everyday terms we use. Phrases like, “You hit like a girl,” or “You drive like a girl,” imply that women are weaker and less intelligent than their male counterparts. It is a small subtlety, but using such phrases will keep implicit bias in the forefront of our minds.

I recently heard a story of a child who wanted to be a mailman when she grew up. However, the child expressed to her dad how angry she was because she could never do so. Confused, the father asked his daughter what made her say that and why. She said to him, “Because they are all mail-men, not mail-women, and I am not a man.”

The child mentioned above, living in 2020, limited herself because of her gender and was basing her life’s dream on a generic term used every day. 

Perhaps her father could have reminded her of some of the most historically significant mail carriers in history, the women of the “Six Triple Eight.” This Army unit comprising all African American women sorted through two years of backlogged mail during World War II. They did not stop until they got all their mail out to the Soldiers, regardless of their location.

“No mail, low morale,” was their motto. In a time where Soldiers felt hopeless and began forgetting what they were fighting for, it was the Women’s Army Corps unit, 6888 Central Postal Directory Battalion, that restored their fighting spirit.

“Opening up more combat military occupational specialties and career fields such as Infantry to women should help to bring about equality in the ranks,” added Timberlake. “Additionally, this move should make women equally competitive with their male counterparts.”

The last 50 years have proven to be the most uninterrupted time for women in the military ranks. Female Soldiers are now qualifying for elite forces and advancing within the ranks of male-dominated job specialties. The first female graduated from West Point in 1980. The first female Rangers graduated in 2015.

Women have gained their notoriety and are proving themselves in significant ways in today’s military.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton helped organize the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y., in 1848, but historian Lori Ginzberg argues that Stanton wasn’t necessarily fighting for all women’s rights. (Photo and caption courtesy of NPR)

The Kentucky Army National Guard has its fair share of women doing remarkable things for country and state as they are employed in newly opened combat roles. Just last year, 2nd Lt. Stella Hundley of 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry, became the first woman in state history to become a platoon leader in an combat arms battalion, Sgt. Megan Durham of 1st Battalion, 623d Field Artillery is the unit’s first female launcher section crew chief for HIMARS, and Capt. Eileen Miller, also of 1-149th, became Kentucky’s first female to command an Infantry company.

“Whatever the theories may be of woman’s dependence on man, in the supreme moments of her life, he cannot bear her burdens,” said Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “In the tragedies and triumphs of human experience, each mortal stands alone.”

These advancements seen in our state would not have happened without those pioneering women from the early 19th century. Though the movement took its course over these 100 years, leading women like Stanton, Lucretia Mott, and Susan B. Anthony have forever changed the tone of the woman’s voice.

Those responsible for these changes have given women like us strength in our military. The Kentucky Guard is responding and we hear you loud and clear.

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