Colonel Katherine Amelia Towle (April 30, 1898 – March 1, 1986) was the second Director of the United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (USMCWR) and the first Director of Women Marines.
Towle was born in Towle, California on April 30, 1898. (The town was named after her paternal grandfather and uncles who settled there in the 1850s.) She moved with her family to Berkeley, California in 1908. She graduated with honors from University of California, Berkeley in 1920, then later earned a Master’s degree in political science in 1935.
She came to the Marine Corps from UC Berkeley in 1943. Her first assignment with the new women’s component was even before public announcement of the establishment of the Women’s Reserve on February 13, 1943. She was named Women’s Reserve (WR) representative for Women’s Recruit Depot in the Bronx, with the rank of Captain, USMCWR, (with date of rank February 24, 1943).
Colonel Towle was named Director when her predecessor, Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter, retired on December 7, 1945. She served in that capacity until June 1946. In August of the same year, when the Women’s Reserve was deactivated, Colonel Towle returned to the University of California as Assistant Dean of Women.
Again, after the Congress had authorized the acceptance of women into the regular armed services, the Marine Corps called upon Colonel Towle to direct this organization. On November 4, 1948, she returned to the Corps to become the first Director of Women Marines after they were constituted a regular component.
In 1950 the Marine Corps contracted the fashion design house of Mainbocher to design new uniforms for the Women Marines. The prototype of the first Marine Corps women’s evening dress uniform was tailored expressly for Colonel Towle. It was first worn in public at the 175th anniversary Marine Corps Birthday Ball in 1950. The uniform included a red tiara with gold embellishments. As another design of evening dress uniform was eventually adopted, Colonel Towle’s evening dress uniform was a “one of a kind.” This uniform is now in the museum collection of Artillery Company of Newport in Newport, Rhode Island.
Colonel Towle served as Director of Women Marines until her retirement on April 30, 1953.
Her military awards included the Legion of Merit, Navy Commendation Medal, American Campaign Medal and World War Two Victory Medal. Eight days before Colonel Towle’s retirement, President Eisenhower created the National Defense Service Medal retroactive to June 27, 1950. She was, thus, eligible for the medal but it is uncertain if she was ever formally awarded it.
We honor you, Katherine Towle.