The idea of women casting ballots was so alien that even those who attended the landmark 1848 Seneca Falls Convention on women’s rights found it hard to get their heads around it. The delegates unanimously passed resolutions favoring a woman’s right to her own wages, to divorce an abusive husband and to be represented in government. A resolution on suffrage passed, but with dissenters.
Not long after becoming the first woman in the U.S. Armed Forces to attain the rank of brigadier general, Anna Mae Hays climbed into a car with a single destination in mind: the Army officers’ club. Up to that day, female officers had been tacitly expected to use a side entrance, and in her former rank of colonel, Hays had acquiesced. This time, according to an account in the Lancet, General Hays directed the driver to drop her at the front, and it was through the front door that she entered.
In 1995, when Venona was declassified, the public face of the project was male. But in the cryptanalytic unit—where the tough analytic math was done, where the messages were prepared and matched, where the breakthroughs happened, where the numbers were so painstakingly stripped—the face of Venona was different: “Most of the people working on it were women,” says Robert L. Benson, a retired historian for the National Security Agency.
It’s extraordinary, the extent to which our public art still over-tells the story of men’s contributions at the expense of women’s. In all of Washington, D.C.—a city where it would seem that no male military officer or government leader has been denied a spot in some square or traffic circle—there are only a handful of statues depicting historical women: Joan of Arc, educator Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, among a few others. The other 50-odd female (or female-ish) statues mostly depict abstract concepts like grief or freedom, or else they are anonymous forms arrayed in worshipful poses around men, fulfilling the hallowed female role of gazing adoringly upon men and encouraging homage to them, all the while remaining, themselves, unnamed.
When most Americans think about our veterans on Veterans Day — and all too infrequently in between — they often think of acts of valor as fixed in an earlier era. But the story of our country’s female veterans, pressed into service at a trying time, can tell us a lot about challenges we face today, as can the contributions of those civilian women, like Caracristi, who played a critical role in the wartime military effort.