In his opening remarks to the graduating class at the U. S. Military Academy at West Point in May, President Obama called out four cadets by name. Three of them were women: Austen Boroff and Erin Mauldin, leaders in one of the academy’s four regiments, and Calla Glavin, a Rhodes Scholar and lacrosse goalie. At the ceremony’s close, Obama was succeeded by the chain of command, which ended with the top cadet — Lindsey Danilack, just the fourth woman to hold this position — giving an order. “Class of 2014, dismissed,” she said.
From its founding in 1802, on George Washington’s earlier recommendation, until 1976, West Point admitted no women. Since then, more than 4,100 have followed in the steps of the first 62 female graduates in 1980. Many more are on the way, too, now that the American military will be opening combat positions to qualifying women by 2016. The 263 female cadets who started at West Point this year made up 22 percent of the incoming class, a record number, up from 16 percent last year.
They and their fellow first-year cadets, or plebes, reported for Reception Day on July 2, which marked the beginning of six weeks of cadet basic training, a k a Beast Barracks, and the end of their civilian lifestyles. “I knew I was going to need to step it up in the physical realm,” Danilack says, referring to her own early days on campus. “But I never knew it was going to be as hard as it turned out to be.” Upon graduating, she and her classmates received their commissions — and their bars — as second lieutenants in the U.S. Army.
In the weeks leading up to the occasion, the photographer Damon Winter of The New York Times followed Danilack and several other female cadets — including the Efaws, three sisters in three separate classes in the same school year — to capture a sense of daily life for women at one of the nation’s elite educational institutions.
Part I: Great Expectations
Top left: Alexandra Efaw, class of 2014, addressing plebes on the subject of performing Shakespeare. Bottom left: Sneha Singh, class of 2017. Right: Oriana Ellis, class of 2014, in a human-anatomy class. “[One] thing that surprised me was diversity,” she says. “And not in the sense that I had to get used to diversity. I had to get used to a decrease in diversity, being from South Florida. . . . It was definitely a shock meeting people who’ve never been around someone who’s completely different than them.”
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