Lesson Plan: Women in the Military

By Annie Thornton 10.23.2017 blog

Channel One News has closely covered the evolving role of women in the military. In this two-day lesson plan, students will learn about the sacrifices women have made for their country and how some of the most fearless people in history led the way to ensure equal status for women in all roles in the military.

Day 1

Watch: First Black Woman U-2 Pilot

Check for Understanding:
• How has Lieutenant Tengesdal broken barriers? What are some of her accomplishments?
• What role does a U-2 plane serve in the military? How is flying it different from other aircrafts?

Explain: In the United States, women have a long history in military aviation. Yet it took a long time for women to advance from service pilots to regular military pilots to combat pilots.

Extend: Women in Aviation History Slideshow

Women have been a key part of aviation history since shortly after the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903. E. Lillian Todd became the first woman to design a plane in 1906. In 1932, Amelia Earhart was the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. But women couldn't fly in the U.S. military.

The U.S. War Department wanted to use female pilots as early as 1930, but the Chief of the Army Air Corps said no. Finally, when the U.S. entered World War II, things changed. In 1943, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program began. More than 1,000 women flew military aircraft within the United States.

In 1974, Barbara Allen Rainey became the U.S. Navy’s first female pilot. Also in 1974, Sally Woolfolk became the first female pilot in the Army. In 1977, the first 10 female Air Force pilots graduated, and in 1995, Sarah M. Deal became the first female pilot in the Marine Corps.

In 1991, the U.S. Congress overturned a 43-year-old ban on women flying warplanes in combat. Three years later, Air Force Lieutenant Jeannie Flynn completed her training on the F-15E Strike Eagle aircraft, to become the first female fighter pilot in U.S. history.

In 1995, Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Martha McSally became the first U.S. female to fly in combat, from Kuwait into Iraq. In 2004, she became the first woman to command a fighter squadron. Her team was sent on a difficult mission in Afghanistan. McSally is currently a U.S. Congresswoman from Arizona.

The WASPs of World War II were considered civilians. Finally, in 1977, Congress declared that these women were officially veterans of the U.S. military. In 2009, President Barack Obama signed a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots.

Check for Understanding:

  • What is the WASP program, and why was it significant?
  • How did Lieutenant Jeannie Flynn help pave the way for Lieutenant Tengesdal?

Discuss: How have previous women in aviation history helped pave the way for Lt. Tengesdal?

Partner: Work with a partner to create a timeline depicting notable women in U.S. aviation history, based on the Extend slideshow.

Day 2

Watch: Women Army Rangers


Check for Understanding:

  • How have Captain Griest and Lieutenant Haver made history?
  • Describe the Army Rangers training course.

Extend: Women in Military Slideshow

Image Credit: U.S. Army

Women have been serving in military roles since the founding our country. During the Revolutionary War, women served as nurses, laundresses, water bearers and spies. Molly Pitcher, born Mary Ludwig, became a folk hero for carrying pitchers of water to soldiers and helping with canon duty during battle. One witness reported watching an enemy canon shot pass right between her legs, tearing her petticoat, but leaving her unscathed.

Image Credit: National Institutes of Health

When the Civil War started in 1861, Army hospital commanders rejected help from Dr. Mary Edwards Walker on account of her gender. She traveled to the front lines anyway and went wherever she was needed. In 1864, Confederate soldiers captured her and held her as a prisoner of war for four months. After the war, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor, still the only one issued to a woman. She wore it every day until she died.

Image Credit: Library of Congress

During World War I, women served as nurses in the military, in the US and overseas. More than 400 nurses died during the war due to Spanish flu. Many other women served as “Hello Girls,” bilingual switchboard operators in France. And the Navy enlisted 12,000 women to serve stateside, to release sailors for sea duty.

Image Credit: U.S. Air Force

During World War II, more than 60,000 nurses served stateside and overseas. In order to free men up for combat missions, the Army established the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (WACs); the Navy, the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES); and the Air Force, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). These female pilots served non-combat roles on their ship “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”

Image Credit: Courtesy Women's Memorial

In 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, which opened promotions for women to general and flag ranks, lifted ceilings on other ranks and removed the 2 percent limit on the number of women allowed on active duty.

Image Credit: Specialist Jeremy D. Crisp/U.S. Army

In 2005, 23-year-old Leigh Ann Hester was on a mission to clear a convoy route of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) when her convoy came under enemy fire. During the firefight, Hester led her team through the “kill zone,” launched grenades to clear an enemy trench and killed several insurgents. For her efforts, she became the first woman issued a Silver Star for combat action.

Image Credit: Sgt. Tyler L. Main and CWO2 Paul S. Mancuso/U.S. Marine Corps

The steady stream of “firsts” for women in the military continues. In November 2013, for the first time, 12 women took part in the Marine infantry test and 3 passed. The pull-up requirement has been identified as a difficult obstacle for women. But military leaders expect that, with focus on building upper body strength, growing numbers of women will meet that challenge as well.

Image Credit: U.S. Army

Capt. Kristen Griest and 1st Lt. Shae Haver recently made history as the first two female soldiers to graduate from the U.S. Army’s elite Ranger School. But unlike their male counterparts they are not eligible to join the U.S. Rangers, because the U.S. currently prohibits women from serving in certain special operations combat roles. The Pentagon is expected to decide this year whether to open all combat jobs, including special operations like the Army Rangers and Navy SEALs, to female service members. What do you think?

Decide: The Women Army Rangers video ran on August 21, 2015, and the slideshow ran on September 16, 2015. At that time, women could not serve in ground combat units. But on December 3, 2015, the Pentagon reached a final decision regarding women in combat. What do you think they decided? Why?

Read: All Combat Roles Now Open to Women, Defense Secretary Says, (New York Times, Dec. 3, 2015)

Writing Prompt: Based on what you have read, do you agree with Defense Secretary Carter’s decision allowing women to serve in all combat roles in the military? Why or why not? Use information from the videos, slideshows and your own experiences to support your position.

Wrap-up: What types of discrimination do you think women in the military could continue to face, now that all combat roles are open to women?



    I think women should be allowed to fight in the military as long as they are able to compete alongside their male counterparts.

  2. MO

    they are awesome

  3. MO

    the women that serve are really brave! thank you for your service!

  4. Anzley Poe

    I think that women are different from men,but I also think that women shouldn’t be treated differently from men.


  5. Taniyah Nixon

    I think that women can be in the army because if boys can do anything that helps them be strong so can we, but it’s not fair that some men think that women for doing slave work…… WRONG because we can do so much more when women unite and do something very encouraging to show that women are POWERFUL and we can do all THINGS together.

  6. Walker Parsons

    Hey, go to you tube, and type in female marine vs male marine, and see the truth about the armed forces.

  7. carloswebb

    I think that it is good.

  8. Andrew

    Great job i salute you

  9. alyona

    I think women has wrights as males to fight in war


      I think its spelled “rights”

  10. nicky

    Woman in the army are really brave and can be as strong as men.

  11. Caiti T.

    My sister served in the Marine Corp, and came home safely, thank God.

    • Andrew

      i salute her

  12. eva

    women in war are brave

    • Cherry

      Heck yeah!!!

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