July 2013 marks another WWII milestone - the 70th year anniversary of the first Native American woman enlisting in the USMC Women’s Reserve - Minnie Spotted Wolf. Minnie – a member of the Blackfeet Indian Tribe - was born in an area just outside of Heart Butte, MT close to White Tail Creek. She grew up on a ranch and spent much of her time working as a ranch hand. Minnie learned to cut fence posts, drive a 2-ton truck and even break a horse. The physicality of ranch work prepped Minnie for the rigors of boot camp. She is quoted as noting Marine boot camp as ‘hard, but not too hard’.
Minnie served a total of four years in the United States Marine Corps. She was not only a heavy equipment operator, but also drove for the visiting generals on bases in California and Hawaii.
After four years in the Marines, Minnie Spotted Wolf returned to her home state of Montana. She met and married Robert England. In 1955, Minnie earned her two-year degree in Elementary Education. Eventually, in 1976, she earned her bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education. Minnie taught for 29 years before passing away in 1988.
Though Minnie Spotted Wolf was the first Native American woman to enlist in the Marine Corps, she was certainly not the only Blackfoot to give service in the US Armed Forces during WWII.
USMC Women’s Reserve
The history of the USMC Women’s Reserve began in World War I when Maj. Gen. Commandent Barnett requested permission from the Secretary of the Navy to enlist women to assist with electrical duties. On 13 August 1918, Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the United States Marine Corps. By year’s end, she was followed by an additional 300 women. These women took over a number of stateside clerical duties. They received the nickname ‘Marinettes’.
On 13 February 1943, the USMC officially established the Women’s Reserve with first director Maj. Ruth Streeter. Training for the women began in March of 1943. At the time, the USMC used Navy training facilities for both the officer candidates and the enlisted women. Within the first month of accepting women, the USMC had their first class of officer candidates.
Women in the USMC were given over 200 different jobs stateside. By the time the war ended, more than 85% of the enlisted at USMC headquarters were women. While many women were positioned in clerical positions, others were assigned as radio operators, photographers, cooks, drivers, control tower operators and auto mechanics to name a few. More than 20,000 women served the USMC throughout WWII, with only 1,000 continuing on in service after the war ended.
In June of 1948, the US Congress officially passed an act – the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act – which made women a permanent part of the USMC. Within two years, these women would be mobilized once again for the war in Korea. Almost 2,800 women were called to active duty during that time. During the Vietnam War, close to 2,700 women were serving stateside as well as overseas. Except for roles in the infantry, artillery, armor and pilot-air crew, women were given approval by the USMC for assignment in all occupational fields by 1975, a far cry from the basic roles given to the first Native American woman – Minnie Spotted Wolf – in World War II.