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Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Woman Warrior: Olive Hoskins, Armed With Her Typewriter

Olive Hoskins, the then only female member of the United States Regular Army,
at her typewriter at the Army Base in New York City on December 13, 1932.

American newspapers dubbed her the “Woman Warrior” and said she led a “Petticoat Brigade”. From December 13, 1929, until she retired with the consent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt on September 15, 1937, Olive Lenore Hoskins was the only female in the United States Regular Army. But she never wore a uniform and never saluted a superior officer. The only ‘weapon’ she ever used was a typewriter.

1922 passport photo
Warrant Officer insignia
Hoskins was one of three females made fully-fledged members of the US Army when a move to change the status of field clerks to warrant officers was enacted by Congress on April 27, 1926. Some journalists believed that in their haste to pass the War Department Appropriation Bill, 1926, congressmen had not realised that among 327 field clerks thus enlisted into the Regular Army were the three women. The three had been what were classified as civilian headquarters clerks, and on August 29, 1916, these clerks were automatically embraced in the military as Army field clerks. Along with Hoskings, they were a Mrs Jean Doble and a Mrs N.W. Jenkins. Mrs Jenkins died at Walter Reed General Hospital in the District of Columbia 19 days later, on May 16, 1926. Because of physical disabilities caused in a car accident, Mrs Doble retired on December 13, 1929, leaving Ms Hoskins the only female still on active duty in the Regular Army until her own retirement. One male chauvinist Washington reporter wrote, “The belief is that they will probably be the only … women who will serve their country in this capacity for some time to come and that steps will be taken to prevent a repetition of the situation in the future.” From the time of the Second World War, that future offered many women opportunities to serve in the US military.

Olive Hoskins was born at Santa Rosa, Sonoma, California, on December 2, 1882. She grew up in Palo Alto, Santa Clara. One of Ms Hoskins’ sisters worked for the Quartermaster’s Department and later the civil government in the Philippines, and Olive visited her there for 12 months in 1904-05, and again in 1907. On the latter visit, she sat and passed a civil service examination and on August 1, 1907, started a job with the US Army as a civil grade headquarters clerk in Manila, on $1200 a year. Ms Hoskins remained in the Philippines until November 1912, when she was transferred back to San Francisco. On August 29, 1916, her position was changed to Army field clerk and she was assigned to Mexico during the “Pancho Villa Expedition”, which lasted until February 7, 1917.

Back in California, Ms Hoskins tried to have herself sent to the Western Front in the First World War. In the Philippines she had befriended Charles Egbert Stanton, a former paymaster of volunteers in the US Army who served in the Spanish-American War and became a captain in the paymaster corps. Stanton was a lieutenant colonel on the staff of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces on the Western Front, and served as Pershing’s chief disbursing officer. Ms Hoskins wrote to Washington saying that Stanton had requested her help in France. Instead, she was promoted to the intelligence unit of the Western Department headquarters in San Francisco. In 1919 she was reassigned to the Philippines, as personnel manager for the Judge Advocate’s Office. In 1922 Ms Hoskins returned to the US to work with the Seventh Army Corps in Omaha, Nebraska. She remained there until January 19, 1933, when she was once again sent to the Philippines. She resisted a transfer to Governors Island, New York, in 1934, but was ordered to duty in the Judge Advocate General’s office with the 6th Corps in Chicago in September 1935 and her final assignment from July 1936 until retirement on $140 a month in September 1937 was at the Ninth Corps headquarters in San Francisco. Ms Hoskins died at the Protestant-Episcopal Home on Lombard Street, San Francisco, on October 16, 1975, aged 92, and is buried at the Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, San Mateo, California.

One of Ms Hoskins’ brothers was Colonel John Oliver Hoskins (above), who died, aged 53, on January 22, 1942, while serving in World War II. He was commanding officer of the Philippine Department Headquarters. He was shot by Lieutenant Kawaguchi and buried by the Japanese at a road block on the Bagac-Morong Road, Bataan province, Luzon. His body was not recovered and he remains missing in action.

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