Women are the fastest-growing group in the veteran population, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. In 2000, the share of veterans who were women was 4%. By 2040, it’s projected to be 18%.

There are several factors contributing to the rise in women veterans, notably a shift in attitude toward women in the military. But women have found ways to serve even when they’re told they can’t. Here, we’ll talk about the developing trend of women joining the armed forces and touch on their accomplished history.

Increasing opportunities for women in the military

One of the biggest drivers of this increase is a more welcoming environment for women in the military. This was touched on in a previous blog post about Women’s History Month and Lieutenant Colonel Kathy La Sauce, who was one of the first women to serve in the Air Force in an active role. Before then, women had few opportunities in the armed forces, particularly in positions of power.

Times have changed, however. Today, women can serve in any position, including in leadership and combat roles.

That’s not to say women don’t have a long history of serving in some form or fashion. While it’s only been in recent decades that women have begun enlisting in larger numbers and reaching new heights, the origins of women assisting the U.S. armed forces go as far back as the Revolutionary War.

Women have served in the military since the Revolutionary War

"The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."“The appearance of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.”

For some exceptional people, feelings of patriotism overwhelm them so much they’re willing to overcome any obstacle — including being barred from officially serving in the armed forces. Such was the case with women who contributed during the Revolutionary War.

When colonial militias fought for Washington in the Continental Army, women — mothers, wives and daughters alike — insisted on coming to do their part. They did everything they could to help, including foraging for food, performing first aid and keeping the cannons functional.

Margaret Corbin was especially notable for the lengths she was willing to go. In addition to performing the aforementioned duties, Corbin disguised herself as a man so she could fight in a combat role alongside her husband, John. During the Battle of Fort Washington, she assisted John in loading the cannon. When he was killed by enemy fire, Margaret held her ground and continued to load and fire the cannon. When she was severely wounded by the British and permanently lost the use of her left arm, Washington’s forces granted her a military pension. She was the first woman to receive one.

The women serving today

The women who serve today are different from before. Many women veterans are part of an ethnic minority and/or unmarried, and they’re far more likely to serve as officers, according to Pew Research. They also serve in all branches of the military, though the Army is the most popular, followed by the Air Force.

As more women join the military, there will be a larger share of female veterans

Even though the armed forces are predominantly men, the percentage of women in the armed forces is increasing — and this trend is projected to continue. Since the inception of the U.S. military, women have been demonstrating that they’re just as capable as their male counterparts. The effect is that more women are inspired to serve. If history is any indication — and if patriotic women like Margaret Corbin have anything to say about it — they will continue to excel and embolden others to do the same.