Breaking the Glass Ceiling:

4 mins read
Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island's mascot, Private First Class Opha May, poses for an independence day-themed photo July 3, 2018 on Parris Island, S.C. Opha May, an English bulldog, is Parris Island's first female mascot. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley/Released)

‘Opha May’ is Marines’ first female mascot

By Ron Callari

A glass ceiling is a metaphor delineating an invisible barrier that prevents a given demographic (typically applied to a certain class people or gender) from ascending beyond a certain level in a hierarchy. For instance, when a woman in America achieves a status of significance for the first time, they are described as “breaking the glass ceiling.”

Well, dog-gone it, when we refer to females, we’re not only talking about humans. Females in other species may also achieve this distinction. 

First female Marine

In August 2017, English bulldog Opha May became the first female canine ever to become a mascot for the Marines. Beaufortonians can be proud that this momentous occasion happened in our hometown.

This military pooch graduated from training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in November 2017 to proudly assume the position of Parris Island’s 21st mascot.

Appropriately, Opha was named in honor of Opha Mae Johnson, who also broke a glass ceiling in 1918, when she enlisted in the Corps as the first female Marine, according to the Women Marines Association. By war’s end, Johnson was a senior enlisted woman, having been promoted to sergeant.

Nicknamed a “Marinette,” Johnson’s nurse duties included tending to the victims of the 1918 influenza pandemic. By the time World War II rolled around, though, as top officers realized how vital women were to Marine duties, she lost the cutesy nickname and gained respect on equal par with male marines.

Passing the baton

Parris Island’s mascots date back to 1914. The first was an Irish terrier named “Mike,” for whom a memorial stands near the commanding general’s home — it’s the oldest monument on the Parris Island base.

Private First Class Opha May graduated from recruit training alongside her fellow human Marines. She replaced Cpl. Legend, the English bulldog who served six years until his death in September of that year.

“She is excited about anything or everything you put in front of her,” said Cpl. Cameron Philips, an administrative clerk with Headquarters and Service Battalion. “She is very social and energetic; her people skills are why she will fulfill her new role excellently.”


The Marine Corps honorably discharges its mascots after a few years, giving them plenty of time to enjoy retirement with their adoptive families. As you can imagine, the application process to adopt one of the Corps’ retired canine companions is very competitive. 

When Opha May’s retirement rolls around, there surely will be an exceedingly long waiting list of families hoping to adopt this glass ceiling-breaking bulldog.

Ron Callari is the VP Sales & Marketing for HD Hospitality overseeing the debut of the new innovative Hilton brand “Home2” on Parris Island Gateway and Trask Parkway.

Photo at top: U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Dana Beesley.

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