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My Coast Guard
Commentary | Aug. 26, 2020

Striving for Equality— A Historical Perspective on Women’s Evolving Role in Coast Guard Service

By Shana Brouder, MyCG Writer

As we commemorate Women’s Equality Day today, Aug. 26, it is also an opportunity for us, as a workforce, to acknowledge the many great steps that our fellow female Coast Guard members have taken on the road to equality.

In honor of the 19th Amendment’s centennial anniversary, here is a look back at women’s involvement in the Coast Guard – which even predates the 19th Amendment. (A full timeline of women’s involvement in the Coast Guard can be found on the Office of the Historian’s website.)

  • First Women Join the Coast Guard. The first two women to serve in the Coast Guard were twin sisters, Genevieve and Lucile Baker, members of the Naval Costal Defense Reserves, who the Navy assigned to the Coast Guard in 1918. Later that year, Myrtle Hazard enlisted in the Regular Coast Guard on January 7, 1918 during the height of the U.S. effort to support the Allies during World War I.
  • The Women’s Reserve. On November 23, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Public Law 772 of the 77th Congress, 2nd Session, creating the Women's Reserve of the Coast Guard. This is seen as the beginning of the careers and positions women fill today at the Coast Guard.
  • Women Join Active Duty. In 1973, Congressional legislation ended the Women’s Reserve officially integrating women into the active-duty Coast Guard and the Coast Guard reserves. Also, in August 1978, the Commandant announced that "all personnel restrictions based solely on sex would be lifted."  Thereafter all officer career fields and enlisted ratings were open to women. 
  • Women Promote. In 1974, Eleanor L'Ecuyer became the first woman on active duty promoted to Captain (O-6) since World War II.
  • Women of Color Join the Officer Ranks at Coast Guard. In 1975, Ens. Thomasania Montgomery and Ens. Linda Rodriguez graduated from Coast Guard Officer Candidate School, Yorktown, VA, becoming the first African-American female commissioned officers in the Coast Guard.
  • Women Command Cutters. In 2003, Lt. Holly Harrison became the first Coast Guard woman to command a cutter in a combat zone. She was also the first Coast Guard woman to be awarded the Bronze Star.
  • Women Are Leaders. In 2000, Vivien Crea became the first woman promoted to the flag corps, and later became the 25th Vice Commandant, the first and only time a woman has filled that leadership role. Later, in 2009, Capt. Sandra L. Stosz was promoted to rear admiral, becoming the first female graduate of the Coast Guard Academy to reach flag rank. Also in 2009, Lt. Felicia Thomas became the first African-American female commanding officer of a cutter when she assumed command of the Coast Guard Cutter Pea Island. Four years later Capt. June E. Ryan became the first woman to move up the military ranks from junior enlisted to flag officer upon her promotion to rear admiral in 2013. In 2020, RDML Melissa Bert became the Coast Guard’s first female judge advocate general and chief counsel.

Findings from a recent RAND study are being used to better coordinate policy to support our female Coast Guard members and ensure the history of women in the Coast Guard continues to grow and flourish. The Coast Guard remains committed to ensuring women’s equality within the Coast Guard and is constantly looking for ways to improve women's leadership and participation throughout the ranks. We are thankful for the valuable perspective women bring to the Coast Guard, and how they help the Coast Guard stay Semper Paratus 365 days a year.