Wielding everything from axes to boiling lye, American women have defended themselves and their country since Colonial days, an Air Forcemajor and history professor told a Women's Commission gathering Thursday.
Ten county women active in Operation Desert Storm, honored in absentia, followed many women who served in military capacities, said Rita Gomez, who teaches at Anne Arundel Community College.
"The average person has the vague idea that women did not fight, and that the military was what we see in movies, with men all dressedup like John Wayne. That was not the reality at all until about the late 19th century," Gomez told about 35 women.
No professional army existed in Colonial times, she said, and women often had to defend their settlements single-handedly.
The closest thing to an army was the Indian scouts, paid professionals who tracked the movements of tribes, and many of these were women, Gomez said.
Women joined both the Continental Army and the Home Guard during the Revolutionary War. More than 20,000 served with the New York and Massachusetts units alone, carrying powder and dragging injured soldiers from the field. One is buried at West Point.
The expression "son of a gun" emergedabout this time, derived from pregnant women on warships asking the captain to fire the guns to induce labor, Gomez said.
Women disguised as men served also in the Civil War, although sometimes they werediscovered and booted out -- in one instance after the woman had served 21 months and been injured twice in battle.
Women were primarily relegated to support functions in both world wars, but thousands served, said the professor, a reservist who is writing the official history of women in the Air Force.
"In World War II, they found thatone WAC (Women's Army Corp) could replace two men," Gomez told her audience. "When people see that women have always been in combat, it eliminates a lot of questions."
Retired military women and friends and family of the county women being honored called the evening "heartwarming".
"It means a great deal to me as a mother, but even moreas a woman. I'm delighted we've come to the point that we're honoring women as women," said Meg Clarke, mother of Spec. Elisabeth Clarke Asbury, who is serving in Saudi Arabia.
Sgt. Coetta Sumrall, an Army reservist stationed in Annapolis, was thrilled that her best friend -- Sgt. Rebecca Pulley -- was one ofthe military women being honored.
Sumrall said her friend was hit by a land mine and is convalescing at Walter Reed Hospital.
"We have been put behind in the military and all other aspects, and now we're finally coming out," Sumrallsaid. "It's wonderful!"
A placard by a yellow wreath listed Pulley's name, along with the other county residents who served in the recent war: Lt. Christie Applequist, Sgt. Shonnette Blake, Lt. J. G. Sigi Dietrick, Lt. Karen Direnzo, Staff Sgt. Mary King, P.O. Tracy M. Monroe, Spec. Carol Robeson, Pfc. Shaunte Staten-Johnson and Spec. Elisabeth Clarke Asbury.
For one former WAC, the meeting brought backmemories of World War II. Anne Spear, an Annapolis resident who served in Austria as a secretary, recalled joining because "the war was so awful and everybody wanted to do their part. There were blackouts in the cities and rationing and just that spirit of all of us pulling together," she remembered.
"Women have as much right as men to defend their country. It gives you some control over what's going on, and it's nice to formally recognize that."