The past few years have seen many notable firsts for women in the military. In 2017, an anonymous female Marine became the first woman to complete the Infantry Officer Course. In 2016, Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson became the highest ranking woman in history when she led U.S. Northern Command. That same year was the first time female sailors deployed on submarines. 

Despite these firsts happening so recently, women have participated in the military since the Revolutionary War. They acted as more than nurses; some were spies, and others served in combat (though they had to disguise themselves as men). Here is a brief overview into the ways women worked in the military during the country's formative years:

Women in the Revolutionary War

During this time, women served in the Army as cooks, seamstresses and nurses. In fact, George Washington – then commander-in-chief of the Continental Army – asked that Congress provide one nurse for every ten sick or injured servicemen, according to the Army's website.

That said, some women acted as spies, transporting messages and contraband and notifying troops of any British movement on their properties. One woman by the name of Nancy Morgan Hart used her masculine looks to her advantage; she disguised herself as a mentally distressed man and entered British camps in Augusta, Georgia. Another woman, Deborah Sampson, disguised herself as a man named Robert Shirtliffe and enlisted in the Army, where her sex wasn't discovered until she was wounded in combat. Sampson was discharged, but her service was recognized after her death when Congress allowed her husband to receive a widow's pension.

An image of a female servicemember with text that reads, "Many women disguised themselves as men in order to serve in combat."Women had to get creative in order to serve in combat during the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

Women in the Civil War

Women's positions only expanded during the Civil War – more than 400 disguised themselves as men in order to enlist the the Union and Confederate armies. Yet this period was notable for another reason. Dr. Mary Walker, an assistant surgeon who served for the Union in 1862 and 1863, was the first and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor.

Her journey to this distinction wasn't easy, however. Walker was rejected when she first tried to get a job as an Army surgeon, so she was forced to work as an unpaid volunteer wherever necessary. Eventually, her office was converted to a hospital, and Walker worked as an unpaid assistant surgeon. To work more efficiently, she traded her women's uniform for a modified version of a man's. Walker also helped create an organization to assist women who visited wounded relatives in Washington.

Walker traveled to various camps during her tenure but was consistently denied a paying job. According to the Association of the United States Army, she was finally appointed as an assistant surgeon in 1863, but she was captured by Confederate forces in April 1864. Because of her attire, Walker's captors deemed she was a spy and imprisoned her for four months. She was released in August as part of an exchange for a captured Confederate surgeon.

After the war, Walker demanded recognition for her service, requesting a promotion to major. While she was denied by the Secretary of War, President Andrew Johnson decided to award her a Medal of Honor. 

The future of women in the military

Women in the military have come a long way since these beginnings, yet they still haven't achieved full integration. As citizens, veterans and active-duty military, it is important that we listen to the concerns of our female servicemembers and celebrate their accomplishments.