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Women at War

In September 1945, Gertrude Shapiro went to Hiroshima as part of the first American medical group sent to aid in relief efforts after the dropping of the atomic bomb. The photo (at center right) and Shapiro’s story are part of a new exhibit at the National Museum of American Jewish Military History, “Women in the Military: A Jewish Perspective.” More than 50 Jewish women are featured in the show, which includes photos and stories of their service in American conflicts, from the Civil War through the present, and traces their confrontation with sexism and anti-Semitism along with their military endeavors.

Among the little known facts included in the exhibit:

  • There were more than 340,000 women serving in the American forces during World War II. More than half of those were not nurses.
  • 12 Jewish women were among the first graduating class of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, a team of female soldiers (initially unpaid!) created in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
  • In WWI, the secretary of the Navy recruited women to serve as intelligence, fingerprints experts, camouflage designers and other on-shore staff.

Rabbi Bonnie Koppell joined the Army Reserves in 1979 while a rabbinical student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and, upon her ordination, became the first female Jewish chaplain ever to serve in the United States military. “No one prays for peace with more fervor than the soldier who stands ready to lay down his or her life for our country,” she has explained about her service. “Yet I am not a pacifist; I believe that there are times when war is justified.”

“Women in the Military” will be on view at the NMAJMH through the year 2000. The museum is located at 1811 R Street, NW, Washington, D.C. For more information, call (202) 265-6280.