12 famous women who served in the military

bea arthur 1988 emmys
Bea Arthur served in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.Lennox McLendon/AP Photo
  • Women have been serving in the military, officially or unofficially, since the Revolutionary War.

  • Just as there are famous men who are veterans, there are famous women vets as well.

  • "Golden Girl" Bea Arthur was one of the first members of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.

Women have been an important part of the armed services since the beginning, with icons like Harriet Tubman participating in the Civil War. While being female in a traditionally male-dominated space hasn't always been easy, these women have stuck it out and served their countries.

In 2022, the US Department of Defense reported the percentage of women serving in active and reserve capacities was growing. In 2021, 17.3% of active-duty roles and 21.4% of the National Guard and reserves were women, up slightly from the year before, it reported, citing the 2021 Demographics Profile of the Military Community.

Ahead of Memorial Day this year — the official marker of summer and one of the biggest holidays in the US — here are 12 famous women who have served in the military around the world, including Bea Arthur, Queen Elizabeth, and more.

Melina Glusac contributed to a previous version of this article.

Harriet Tubman was a military leader and Union spy during the Civil War.

Harriet Tubman
Harriet Tubman.MPI/Getty Images

Most know Harriet Tubman for her groundbreaking work with the Underground Railroad and, later, as an abolitionist, but as National Geographic reported, Tubman was also an integral part of the Civil War.

In 1863, Tubman and Colonel James Montgomery led a group of soldiers in freeing slaves from plantations in South Carolina, making Tubman the first woman in US history to lead a military expedition, according to National Geographic.

Her work continued as a spy and recruiter for the Union Army. This operation was so covert that only President Lincoln knew about it.

Tubman received compensation for her military contributions decades later, in 1899. Thomas B. Allen, the author of "Harriet Tubman, Secret Agent," called Tubman "one of the great heroines of the Civil War."

Queen Elizabeth was a military truck driver during World War II.

queen elizabeth world war 2
Queen Elizabeth outside a first aid truck during World War II.Keystone/Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth was only 18 years old when she begged her father, King George VI, to take part in helping out during World War II.

She joined the Women's Auxiliary Territorial Service in England that same year and was known as "Second Subaltern Elizabeth Windsor," according to the National Archives.

While serving, the young queen drove military trucks and trained as a mechanic — making her, to this day, the only female member of the Royal Family to enter the armed forces.

NASA's Eileen Collins was one of the first female pilots in the Air Force — and in space.

Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins.NASA

Eileen Collins broke several barriers during her career: Not only was she NASA's first female shuttle commander, but at 23, she became the Air Force's first female flight instructor, according to the agency.

She joined the Air Force in 1978, becoming one of the first four women to go through pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma.

She wrote in Time, "The Air Force was testing whether women could succeed as military pilots. We obviously were living in a fishbowl — everyone knew who we were, our personal business, our test scores and our flight performance. My philosophy was to be the best pilot I could be."

Her military training directly led her to test-pilot school, where she "knew" she would go on to be the first female space shuttle pilot — and succeeded in doing so.

"Golden Girl" Bea Arthur was one of the first members of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.

bea arthur 1988 emmys
Bea Arthur.Lennox McLendon/AP Photo

Before she was Dorothy Zbornak on "The Golden Girls," Emmy Award-winning actor Bea Arthur was a Marine.

As reported by The Daily Beast, Arthur enlisted into the Women's Reserve when she was just 21 years old, first serving as a typist and truck driver. She worked her way up to staff sergeant and was honorably discharged in 1945.

Official documents show that Arthur's supervisors thought she was "argumentative," which is not a far cry from the feisty persona she became known for on both "The Golden Girls" and "Maude."

"Stranger Things" actress Jennifer Marshall served in the US Navy for five years.

Jennifer Marshall
Jennifer Marshall as Susan Hargrove on "Stranger Things."Netflix

Before Jennifer Marshall scored the role of Susan Hargrove on Netflix's hit show "Stranger Things," she served in the United States Navy from ages 17 to 22.

According to Marshall's website, during her time in the service, she was a forklift operator, aircraft handler, and logistics specialist, and also worked for the USS Theodore Roosevelt's Sexual Assault Victim Intervention (SAVI) program.

Marshall was awarded many honors and medals for her time in the Navy. Now, in addition to acting, she works with Pin-Ups For Vets, a nonprofit organization that aids hospitalized veterans and deployed troops.

Food Network star Sunny Anderson was in the Air Force.

sunny anderson
Sunny Anderson.Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Anderson, who hosts "The Kitchen," "Cooking for Real," and "Home Made in America," grew up around the military because of her parents. As an adult, she enlisted in the US Air Force as a radio broadcaster and journalist, working in Seoul, South Korea, and in San Antonio.

"I knew that there were radio stations, television stations, newspapers, and magazines, for the military, by the military, and I wanted to be a part of that," Anderson told ABC News in 2013.

She also wanted to train in something that would be useful when she left the military.

"My transition from the Air Force started before I even got in the Air Force," she said.

Radio talk show host Robin Quivers was a captain in the Air Force.

Robin Quivers
Robin Quivers.Walter McBride/WireImage via Getty Images

Robin Quivers has co-hosted "The Howard Stern Show" for over 30 years, but before that, she served as a captain in the US Air Force.

Quivers got her degree in nursing from The University of Maryland and put it to use by joining the military as a second lieutenant after college. She quickly climbed the ranks, and when she was discharged in 1978, her official title was captain, according to Biography.com.

She served as a reserve in the Air Force until 1990, per military records, after which she fully pivoted to her career in radio. But Howard Stern hired her for his show in 1981, which means that Quivers — though she was "inactive" — was still technically serving while she was on the air.

Actress Zulay Henao served in the US Army for three years.

Zulay Henao
Zulay Henao.JB Lacroix/ Getty Images

Colombian-American actress Zulay Henao has appeared on the show "Army Wives," but few know that she herself served in the US Army before becoming an actress.

Henao enlisted after completing high school and, after three years of serving, went on to enroll at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Arts.

She previously spoke to the paparazzi about her time in the military, saying: "I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing, and I wouldn't have the perspective I have of the world, if it weren't for the Army."

Olympic medalist Shauna Rohbock was in the National Guard.

Shauna Rohbock
Shauna Rohbock.Harry How/Getty Images

Shauna Rohbock is an Olympic bobsledder and won the silver medal at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. But before that, according to Team USA, Rohbock joined the Utah Army National Guard and was part of the National Guard Outstanding Athlete Program.

Olympian Amber English competed while still in the military — she won gold in women's skeet shooting at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

Amber English raises and American flag while wearing her gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics.
Amber English at the 2020 Olympics.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

At her first Olympics, First Lt. Amber English took gold with an Olympic record score of 56, NBC reported. Technically not yet a veteran, she's a logistics officer and member of the Army Marksmanship Unit, according to Military.com.

After English's win, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin congratulated her on Twitter, now known as X.

"Your country is extremely proud of you today, and I'm so glad you're representing us," he wrote.

She joins an illustrious list of medal winners, both male and female, with military backgrounds.

"Wonder Woman" Gal Gadot served in the Israel Defense Forces for two years.

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Gal Gadot.Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images

After Gal Gadot was crowned Miss Israel in 2004, and before she became Wonder Woman in 2017, she served her mandatory two years in the IDF. During Gadot's assignment, she worked as a "physical fitness specialist," teaching things like gymnastics and calisthenics to the soldiers, Pop Sugar reported.

Pro-Palestine groups have criticized her service, as well as her support of the Israeli military and cause in social media posts.

"I think much of it comes from ignorance and people not understanding what most people do in the army in Israel or what I did in the army during my service in the military," she told The Jakarta Post in May 2021. She added: "Being an Israeli and going to the army is an integral thing. It's something you have to do. It's mandatory."

Ruth Westheimer, better known as the sex therapist Dr. Ruth, trained as a sniper in the IDF.

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Dr. Ruth.Donna Svennevik/Walt Disney Television/Getty Images

Dr. Ruth is a Holocaust survivor, and after World War II ended, she moved as a teenager to what would become Israel. During her time there, she trained as a sniper due to her small size.

She told The New Yorker in 2013, "I have no idea what the experience would be if I had to show it. But I was a very good sniper."

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