This week’s America250 salute is Marine Corps Veteran Katherine A. Towle.
Katherine Towle was born in 1899 in the town of Towle, named after her paternal ancestors. When she was nine years old, her family moved to Berkeley, California. At the age of 30, Towle graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She decided to continue working in higher education. From 1927 to 1932, she held positions of the resident dean and head of the Miss Ransom’s and Miss Bridge’s School of Girls in Piedmont, California. In 1935, Towle earned her master’s degree in political science at Berkeley. Over the next few years, Towle worked at Berkeley as a senior editor, teaching fellow and as an assistant in the Office of Admissions.
In February 1943, Towle put her career on hold and joined the newly established Marine Corps Women’s Reserves. She commissioned as a captain and worked at the headquarters in Washington, D.C., and the women’s training centers in New York City. A year after she joined, Towle promoted to major and took the position of assistant director of the Women’s Reserves. Thanks to her hard work and dedication, in 1945, Towle became the second ever director of the Women’s Reserve.
When the Women’s Reserve deactivated in 1946, Towle resumed her work at the University of California as the assistant dean of women. She rejoined the Marine Corps in 1948 after Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to become regular members of armed services. Towle was one of the first women officers in the Marine Corps. On Nov. 4, 1948, Towle, alongside Maj. Julia E. Hamblet and 1st Lt. Mary J. Hale, swore their oaths as officers before Commandant of the Marine Corps Gen. Clifton B. Cates.
According to fellow Marine Corps Reservist Ruth Cheney, Towle “was respectful but unafraid in dealing with her superior officers, who were all men of long service in the Marine Corps. If any of them took a dim view of having women in the Corps, she disarmed them by her intelligence, her devotion to duty, her sense of humor, and her charm.”
Due to her previous service achievements, Towle became the first director of women Marines. Towle said she believed that “…the Marine Corps had, with varying degrees of enthusiasm but always in good grace, accepted the fact that women as potential careerists in the Marine Corps must be reckoned with.” She also made it clear that the goal of women Marines is to cooperate, rather than compete with the male Marines. In 1953, Towle retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of colonel. She once again returned to UC Berkeley where she worked as dean of women and associate dean of students between 1953 and 1965. For her commitment to UC Berkeley, Towle received emeritus status and an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.
During her military service, Towle earned several awards including a Legion of Merit, a Navy Commendation Medal, an American Campaign Medal and a World War II Victory Medal. Her Navy Commendation Medal said Towle “has constantly demonstrated superior qualities of judgment, tact, and leadership […] By her outstanding performance of duty, Lieutenant Colonel Towle has contributed greatly to the development of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve”.
We honor her service.
VA is highlighting 250 Veterans leading up to July 4, 2026, which marks 250 years of independence. Learn more about the count down to 250 years of the American spirit at https://america250.org/.
Writer: Paulina Riffey
Editors: Merrit Pope, Wilson S. Sainvil
Fact Checker: Giacomo Ferrari
Graphic Designer: Kiki Kelley