August 13 marks an important day in Marine Corps history—the enlistment of the first female Marine, Opha Mae Johnson. Opha Mae was born in Kokomo, Indiana in 1879. She graduated from the Shorthand & Typewriting department of Wood’s Commercial College in 1895. In 1898, Opha Mae Jacob married Victor Johnson, who was the Musical Director of the Lafayette Square Opera House in Washington, D.C. at the time. Prior to serving in the Marine Corps, Opha Mae Johnson was in the Civil Service, working for the Interstate Commerce Commission.
In 1918, as World War I was coming to an end, the number of male Marines deployed overseas led to the Marine Corps allowing women to enlist for the first time, filling the vacancies (primarily administrative) left by the deployed Marines. On August 13, 1918, approximately 300 women enlisted in the Marine Corps reserves, with Opha Mae Johnson being the first. Her first duties were as a clerk at the Headquarters of the Marine Corps (HQMC) in Arlington, Virginia, managing the records of other female reservists.
After World War I ended in late 1918, all branches of the service, including the Marine Corps, began steadily disenrolling women, and Johnson ended her time in the Corps in 1919. Later that year, on July 11, the American Legion granted a charter to the first post of female Marine reservists. The post was known as Belleau Wood Post No. 1. The post’s membership consisted of 90 women who had worked at HQMC, including Opha Mae Johnson.