Women’s impact on Military Efforts
Before and during World War I, women were considered to be homemakers and thought of as feeble. However, several women such as Maria Bochkareva from Russia, and other from the United States, went on to prove to that point of view completely wrong by taking on roles in military. The employment of females in the Russian and American militaries was a helpful aid to those countries and led the way for women to gain a higher social ranking in the eyes of men. World War I gave these women a chance to prove they were just as strong as the men who overlooked them. In Russia, prior to World War I, laws did not allow women to formally be a part of military1. But, these unreasonable laws did not stop many young girls from joining. Due to the unreliable recruitment offices of Russia, these women were able to dress as men and “fly under the radar” without a problem. However, some women did not even bother to dress up as men at all. They simply presented themselves to the commander, who ultimately made the decision whether or not to add a person to his unit. Some of these commanders did not mind at all that they were female.2 Eventually, those laws did change. In the peasant revolt in February of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated his throne out of fear for his and his families’ lives.3 The provisional government that took over was not equipped to handle the Great War. With the strict government coming to an end, women found their way into the ranks. This governmental change is what ultimately gave way to women being able to become a part of Russian military.4 Women were not officially allowed to enlist until the summer of 1917 when they created separate all-women units. Many women petitioned the government to start all-female units even before the onset of the war, but were denied permission. Finally, Maria Bochkareva, became the first to successfully be granted permission to form such a unit5. Maria Bochkareva was an extremely important person in the progression of women. She was one of the first women to enter the military independently and with the formal permission of the Tsar6. The first few weeks were a great struggle for Bochkareva. Men still could not accept that women would be taking on their roles. In the barracks, Bochkareva was attacked many times, but when she managed to prove herself by fighting off her offenders, the men learned she was not to be intimidated. Due to spending all of her time surrounded by men, Bochkareva exhibited many manly mannerisms. She ate, spoke, and walked like men in an attempt to fit in. She even wore her hair short as shown in the picture.
Maria Bochkareva7 During Bochkareva’s first battle in 1915, she proved herself by saving many of her male counterparts while under heavy gun fire. She was awarded a medal of valor for her heroic acts, becoming the first women to be awarded any acknowledgment by the Russian army. Later in the same year she was promoted to a new rank, corporal. She was given control of a unit made up of eleven men. These men accepted Bochkareva as their leader.8 Bochkareva was the reason for the creation of the first all-women battalion. A former head of the Duma, Russia’s form of parliament at the time, noticed Bochkareva and her skills and immediately took interest in having women in warfare. When Bochkareva proposed the idea of all women battalions, the government was in full support. They immediately saw the value that these women could possess.9 Government officials believed that creating the battalions would motivate the men to be faster and better. They believed that by showing off to the men that women had to be brought in to perform their jobs, the men would aspire to fight harder to prove themselves10. Women knew of the real reason behind their enlistment, but they did not care. They were getting their chance to fight, something that many peasant women wanted...
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