Margaret Brewer, Marines’ first female general

Margaret Brewer commanded female units early in her career and became a training and public affairs specialist.

Ellsworth Davis/Washington Post/FILE 1976

Margaret Brewer commanded female units early in her career and became a training and public affairs specialist.

WASHINGTON — Margaret Brewer, 82, a retired brigadier general who was the first woman to hold the rank of general in the US Marine Corps and who led the Marines’ public affairs division late in her career, died Jan. 2 at Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, Va. She had Alzheimer’s disease.

General Brewer joined the Marine Corps in 1952 and held a variety of roles in officer recruiting and training, personnel management, and public affairs before she was named a brigadier general in 1978.


As a colonel, she had been director of women in the Marine Corps since 1973, but her position was eliminated in 1977, as women were integrated more fully into the Corps. After serving as deputy director of the information division, she was nominated to lead the division, but the director was required to be a general.

Because the Marine Corps did not allow women to be generals at the time, General Brewer received her star by special appointment from President Carter and approval of both houses of Congress. (In 1985, Gail Reals became the first woman promoted to general through the Marine Corps ranks.)

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General Brewer reorganized the department, which was renamed the Division of Public Affairs, ­before her retirement in 1980.

‘‘She served during an era when many thought that women had no place in the Corps, but she proved critics wrong time and again,’’ Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos said in a statement.

‘‘Everybody looked up to her,’’ said Sara Pritchett, a retired colonel who had known General Brewer since the 1960s. Pritchett described female Marines’ role at the time as ‘‘in support of the men.”


“ ‘Free a man to fight’ — that was the motto in those days,’’ she said.

During General Brewer’s early years in the Marine Corps, women were restricted primarily to support roles, including clerical work, communications, and personnel. She was among the first female officers who showed that women could assume important positions of leadership. She supervised male officers, and acquaintances said she never complained of bias or backlash from her male cohorts.

Margaret Ann Brewer was born in Durand, Mich. She grew up in Michigan and graduated from Catholic High School of Baltimore. She later chaired the school’s board of trustees. She received a bachelor’s degree in geography from the University of Michigan in 1952, then joined the Marine Corps. She commanded female Marine units early in her career and became a training and public affairs specialist. She received two awards of the Legion of Merit.

She had no immediate survivors.

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