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Exhibit opens that chronicles the lives of women Marines

Veteran and active-duty women Marines were visibly moved as they viewed the first exhibit at Camp Pendleton dedicated exclusively to the history of Women Marines. The exhibit opened Feb. 5 at Camp Pendleton’s Ranch House National Historic Site, an adobe built in the 1840s. The home has been utilized to house exhibits since 2007 when it was no longer used as a residence for commanding generals and their families. The exhibit will remain open to the public free of charge through March 31.

The artifacts and images have been provided by the Southern California chapter of the Women Marines Association and Camp Pendleton’s Museum Division and Archives in a chronological order of events.

Command Museum Director, Faye Jonason said, “According to legend, the first female Marine, Lucy Brewer, enlisted as George Baker during the War of 1812. Disguised as a man, Brewer was a sharpshooter aboard the Constitution in several bloody battles against the British. Women were officially barred from the Marine Corps until 1918 when they were then enlisted as Marinettes. The organization was formally called the Marine Reserve and became known informally as the “Marinettes.” Only 305 women enlisted as privates for a four-year commitment.

In World War II the need for more combat Marines led to the formation of the Women’s Reserve in 1943. Many of the women joined to “Free a man to fight.”

Several trailblazing women Marines attended the Museum’s opening. They were met by other women Marines, currently on duty at Camp Pendleton, who expressed keen interest in “what it was like back then.”

Two such persons were Ellie Judge and Ramona Cook. Judge, now age 81, enlisted in the Corps in 1949 as a private and retired in 1980 after serving as the first woman sergeant major of a Marine Corps Base. It was 30 years before another woman at Camp Pendleton would be tapped to fill the same role. Judge met and swapped stories with the current Base Sergeant Major Ramona Cook.

“It’s a little bit easier for us today.” Cook said, “I can only imagine what it was like in 1980 for a female to be the Sergeant Major of the most populous base in the Marine Corps. I am sure it was tough back then because it’s a little bit tough now,” Cook said. Judge recalled how in June of 1949 she and two girlfriends attended the Marine Corps birthday ball at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Boston, Mass. “We were real excited, the patriotism got to us right away.”

“Some things have changed through the years. Back then we were Marines, but ladies first; now there is less emphasis on being a woman Marine.” Judge said. ”We were all there for one reason, to free a Marine to fight.” Today, women Marines may find themselves in combat, but they are still not assigned as combat troops.

The exhibit takes up three rooms in the Ranch House and features a variety of artifacts, photos, and oral histories on video from WW II forward. According to Jonason, “We hope to learn more about the lives of the women as they pioneered regular military status as Women Reserve Marines in 1948 into the positions they hold now as Marines. People who share images and artifacts illustrating our early women’s battalions and compounds, and the Green Hat Club here on Camp Pendleton will be greatly appreciated. It is important to understand their struggle and pride of service to better appreciate them as Marines today.”

The exhibit is open 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday at Camp Pendleton’s Ranch House National Historic site through March 31. Admission is free. Please call (760) 725-5758 or e-mail

[email protected] for additional information.

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