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Interactive graphic: Where do Kentucky’s female veterans reside? See the breakdown

Lexington Herald-Leader - 5/26/2024

While women have always been a part of military operations, the military has not always allowed them to serve in all positions and they haven’t always gotten recognition for their service.

As opportunities for women in the U.S. military have increased, the population of female veterans in across the country has also grown.

Since 2010, the population of female veterans in the United States has increased by 81,000. With the total number of veterans and the number of male veterans decreasing every year, women are making up a larger proportion of the veteran population.

Where do female veterans live? The map shows the number of female veterans per 1,000 women in each state in the U.S.Alaska and and Virginia boast the highest proportion of female veterans. Alaska has nearly 29 female veterans per 1,000 women in the state.

This map shows the number of female veterans per 1,000 women in each county in Kentucky.

Who are some of Kentucky’s most notable women veterans?

Kentucky has many notable women veterans who’ve served their country and communities.

This Memorial Day weekend, we’re spotlighting a few of their stories and contributions. While Veterans Day commemorates all veterans, Memorial Day, May 27, specifically honors those who have died.

Mary Willie Arvin (1879-1947)

Mary Arvin, a native of Henderson County, is Kentucky’s most decorated female military veteran to see World World I combat. She is also the first woman ever to be awarded a Purple Heart medal, according to a 2010 edition of a KentuckyBoard of Nursing publication.

Arvin, a general practice nurse, first went overseas with an American hospital unit in June 1917, just a few months after the U.S. entered The Great War. Stationed in France, Arvin’s hospital faced multiple air raids and bombings by German forces, and her actions during and after the raid won her recognition by three major Allied nations.

In addition to her Purple Heart, she received the French Croix de Guerre and was decorated with the British Royal Red Cross by then Prince Edward VIII, later known as the Duke of Windsor, in 1919 in Washington, D.C.Florence Nightingale, the English statistician and the founder of modern nursing, was one of the first recipients of the Royal Red Cross, specifically created to honor exceptional nurses.

Jo Ann Orr

Jo Ann Orr is a retired Army master sergeant and a fierce advocate for people with sickle cell anemia, having lost her son to the disease. She retired as a senior, non-commissioned officer and served as a logistics specialist, according to her LinkedIn.

In 2022, Orr was inducted into the Kentucky Veteran Hall of Fame and named Kentucky Woman Veteran of the Year.

She continues to advocate for veterans, and since 2010, she has served as the marketing and fundraising director of the Sickle Cell Association of Kentuckiana.

Honored with a Bell Award in 2015, Orr told WLKY in Louisville at the time, “Life is not about you… You have to give back.”

Lois Howard Gray (1920 - 2012)

According to her obituary, Gray served in the Navy as a WAVES officer (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) during World War II. She was described as a “stoic and trustworthy lieutenant” who showed loyalty and perseverance during her service.

Gray is also notable for co-founding Gray Construction with her husband James Norris Gray. In 1940, she graduated from Transylvania University, and in 1997, was presented the Morrison Medal, one of the university’s highest honors. She obtained her master’s degree in arts and arts education from Vanderbilt University and in life worked as a watercolor painter and designer.

A strong believer in education and the arts, Gray was deeply involved with Kentucky’s arts and education organizations, including serving on the boards of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, Governors’ Scholars Program and many others.

She had six children, including former Lexington mayor and current Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Secretary Jim Gray.

Do you have a question about the military in Kentucky for our service journalism team? Send us an email at or submit your questions and comments via the Know Your Kentucky form below.

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