DAY 9
Douglas Howatt

One Woman Quietly Changes the World

100 days
100 lives
100 words

She stepped into the draft, sweeping the women behind her and their heirs ahead in a hurricane of change. The world of men now the world of people.

“For me, with modern sensibilities about women being ignored in history, I wanted to see what I could learn about women’s roles in the war effort. I was immediately drawn to Sergeant Opha May Johnson who cut a new trail for women, helped to change society’s perceptions of women’s worth, and became an inspiration to so many who followed her.” Douglas Howatt

Creating the Centena

The little-known stories off to the side attract me the most. What has been told that we no longer see? Of course, the Great War has spawned countless stories, most of which are naturally about the bravery and the tragedy of war. For me, with modern sensibilities about women being ignored in history, I wanted to see what I could learn about women’s roles in the war effort. I was immediately drawn to Sergeant Opha May Johnson who cut a new trail for women, helped to change society’s perceptions of women’s worth, and became an inspiration to so many who followed her.

Opha May Johnson was an accomplished 39-year-old American civil servant when military leaders decided to recruit women for the home front to send more men to the fighting overseas. Perhaps from midlife crisis or even war fever, Mrs. Johnson jumped at the opportunity to serve and became the first-ever female US Marine on August 13, 1918, shattering the 142-year male tradition. She and the 305 women who followed her that day made a proud example that helped the United States ratify women’s right to vote in 1920. Beautifully, Sergeant Johnson was buried on August 13, 1955, exactly 37 years after she changed the Marines, women’s rights and the country.

Though her story has been celebrated for 100 years, the sad fact is that for more than 60 years Sergeant Johnson, who served faithfully in the country’s war effort, has lain in an unmarked grave in Rock Creek Cemetery in Washington, D.C. How could this be?
Douglas Howatt

I’m happy to report that a more fitting end is in sight. The Women’s Marine Association has taken the lead in efforts to raise the necessary funds to clean up the grave site, obtain the veteran’s marker Sergeant Johnson earned, and erect a commemorative gravestone. Her place in history will be suitably marked on August 29, 2018, 100 years after she stepped through that door to change history and inspire countless people after her.

Opha May Johnson. Image in the public domain and available via Wikimedia Commons.

About the Author

Douglas Howatt

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26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.