Ohio Memory Madness 2014: Ouida Okey, the “Girl Marine”

Official Marine Corps appointment document for Ouida Okey, dated May 23, 1919. Via Ohio Memory.
Official Marine Corps appointment document for Ouida Okey, dated May 23, 1919. Via Ohio Memory.
Ouida Okey's building pass ca. 1919, via Ohio Memory.
Okey’s building pass ca. 1919, via Ohio Memory.

 

We’re now into the Sweet Sixteen round of Ohio Memory Madness 2014, and it’s time to take a closer look at another one of the historical objects that is still in the running to be this year’s champion! This week’s object is a fitting highlight for the last Friday in Women’s History Month: it’s a building pass belonging to an Ohio woman named Ouida Okey, whose name too few Ohioans are familiar with today.

This pass granted Private Okey–one of only around three hundred women to be chosen from 5,000 female applicants to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps during World War I–entrance into the buildings of the State, War and Navy departments during the war in Washington, D.C. Officially named “Marine Reserve (F)” but nicknamed the “Marinettes,” the female Marines who served the country during World War I were not in active combat, but nonetheless filled a vital wartime role and were recognized at veterans following the signing of the Armistice in 1919.

Woodsfield High School newspaper article on Okey, an alumna of the school, via Ohio Memory.
Woodsfield High School newspaper article on Okey, an alumna of the school, via Ohio Memory.

 

Born September 4, 1893, in Graysville, Ohio, Ouida Mabel Okey graduated from Woodsfield High School and attended Marietta Business College before applying for the Marine Corps. She actively served from October 22, 1918, through July 31, 1919, joining up only two months after Opha Mae Johnson became the first woman to enlist in the Marines. She was one of three women from Ohio, along with Mildred A. Cowell of Marietta and Mary A. Williams of Youngstown, to serve in the Marine Reserve (F) during the war; all three performed their service in Washington, D.C., in the Casualty Section of the Adjutant and Inspector’s Department.

Okey (who later took her husband’s last name of Sharp) died on March 23, 1974, at the age of 80. But her legacy, and that of her fellow early military women, lives on in many ways: it’s important to recognize that the large-scale involvement of women in the war effort during WWI was a key factor in securing women’s suffrage, which was enacted with the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920. For a great two-part document about Okey and the women who served with her, we invite you to read Women Marines in WWI from the U.S. Marine Corps.

Visit Ohio Memory to learn more about Ouida Okey and her important achievement, and tune back in next week to learn more about another one of the objects included in Ohio Memory Madness 2014. In the meantime, don’t forget to vote at http://www.ohiohistoryhost.org/madness/–voting for the Sweet Sixteen round runs through 5 PM on Monday, March 31st, and the Final Four starts April 1st!


Thanks to Lily Birkhimer, Digital Projects Coordinator at the Ohio History Connection, for this week’s post!

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