Lady Marines Never Hung Around the Punch Bowl

For decades, every woman joining the Marines learned to describe her mission in a single, five-word mantra: "Free a man to fight."

Women were recruited during World Wars I and II strictly to alleviate manpower shortages. Known as "skirt marines" and "marinettes," they worked in motor transport, supplies, and secretarial jobs. Training consisted mainly of typing and clerical skills.

Marriage for female marines was frowned upon, and until 1975, pregnancy could - and often did - lead to automatic discharge.

Still, women marines were expected to retain their "femininity." Starting in 1967 all recruits took a 12- to 31-hour "Image Development Course" from instructors trained at Pan Am's International Stewardess College. "Boot camp was a finishing school," recalls one veteran marine.

Recruits were issued lipstick and eye shadow (blue or green), sold wigs, and required to wear curlers in their hair at night. They learned how to get in and out of cars gracefully, blow smoke over their shoulders, and sip - rather than guzzle - their beverages.

One final exam involved hosting a formal tea. "We got demerits if we hung around the punch bowl instead of mingling," says the veteran, requesting anonymity.

As recently as the 1980s, women were barred from firing weapons or even wearing pants without permission.

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