women in the army
From the American Revolutionary War to the present Global War on Terror, women have served a vital role in the U.S. Army. Ever since Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley ("Molly Pitcher") replaced her husband when he collapsed at his cannon, women have continually proven that the narrow stereotype, limiting their choice of occupation, was wrong. As women expanded into different roles in the U.S. Army, it was clear that the heart of a warrior was not limited to one gender. When America went through a civil war and the world wars of the 20th century, women continued to show their patriotism and their fighting spirit even though they did not receive equal treatment or recognition. Throughout the U.S. Army's history, women have proven that when freedom is threatened, they are equal to any task...and when their country calls, they respond — not in gender-hyphenated roles — but as U.S. Army Soldiers.
First U.S. Army Nurses to cross the Rhine River with the 51st U.S. Army Field Hospital, now on the east bank of the Rhine. They made the crossing in the ambulance. March 14, 1945 (National Archives).
Women in the U.S. Army
AMERICAN REVOLUTIONARY WAR (1775-1783)
During the American Revolutionary War, women served the United States Army in traditional roles as nurses, seamstresses and cooks for troops in camp. In the Eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, garrisons depended on women to make soldier's lives tolerable. Some found employment with officers' families or as mess cooks. Women employed as laundresses, cooks, or nurses were subject to the Army's rules of conduct. Though not in uniform, these women shared soldiers' hardships including inadequate housing and little compensation.
A few courageous women served in combat either alongside their husbands or disguised as men. During the attack on Fort Washington in 1776, standing alongside her husband John, Margaret Corbin handled ammunition for a cannon. When he was fatally wounded, she took his place at the cannon until she also was wounded. Congress authorized a pension for her in 1779. Mary Ludwig Hays McCauley gained the nickname "Molly Pitcher" in 1778 carrying water to men on the battlefield in Monmouth, N.J. replacing her husband, William Hays, when he collapsed at his cannon.
Women also served as spies during the Revolutionary War. The war was fought on farms and in the backyards of American families across the width and breadth of the colonies and along the frontier. Women took an active role in alerting American troops to enemy movement. Women carried messages, transported contraband, and generally functioned as spies for the cause. Ann Simpson Davis was handpicked by General Washington to carry messages to his generals while the army was in eastern Pennsylvania. Ann, an accomplished horsewoman, slipped through areas occupied by the British Army unnoticed. She carried secret orders in sacks of grain and sometimes in her clothing to various mills around Philadelphia and Bucks Country. She received a letter of commendation for her services from General Washington.
THE CIVIL WAR (1861-1865) AND AFTER
Dr. Mary Walker. Wearing Medal of Honor.
Ca. 1866. Mathew Brady Collection. (Army)
Exact Date Unknown
During the early days of the Republic, increasing numbers of women were drawn from the nation's farms and households, into cities and factories due to creeping industrialism. It is not surprising that women played important roles on both sides of the conflict that was about to erupt in the Spring of 1861.
Most women that had an active role in the war served in traditional roles. They took care of farms and families while encouraging and supporting the war effort. Women served soldiers more directly as nurses, cooks, laundresses, clerks, members of the United States Sanitary Commission, the Christian Commission, and many other support-type groups in numbers unprecedented up to that point in the nation's history.
As regiments faced the reality of war, some women played an active role to include rallying soldiers to fight, bearing the regimental colors on the march, and even participating in battle. "Daughters of the Regiment," as they were commonly referred to, were part of some Civil War units. This title probably originated to designate an honorary "guardian angel," or nurse. One of the best known of these "latter-day Joan of Arcs," or "half-soldier heroines" was Annie Etheridge of the 3rd Michigan Infantry Regiment. Through several bloody engagements, she maintained a reputation for bravery, stamina, modesty, patriotism, and kindness. "At the battle of Fredericksburg," one Maine recruit wrote in his journal, [Annie] was binding the wounds of a man when a ****l exploded nearby, tearing him terribly, and removing a large portion of the skirt of her dress." "You may have read of her," wrote another soldier, in the wake of the battle of Chancellorsville later that Spring. "She is always to be seen riding her pony at the head of our Brigade on the march or in the fight. Gen. Berry used to say she had been under as heavy fire as himself."
Women played an invaluable role as field and hospital nurses, doctors, and administrators. Clara Barton witnessed immense suffering on the battlefield as a nurse. She was, taking care of the wounded, dead and dying, from Antietam to Andersonville. After the war she lectured and worked on humanitarian causes and, became the first president of the American Association of the Red Cross. Until she was captured by Confederates in Chatanooga, Dr. Mary E. Walker served as assistant surgeon with General Burnside's Union forces in 1862 and with an Ohio regiment in East Tennessee the following year. Imprisoned in Richmond as a spy, she was eventually released and returned to serve as a hospital surgeon at a women’s prisoner-of-war hospital in Louisville, Kentucky. After the war, President Andrew Johnson awarded her the Medal of Honor. Dr. Mary E. Walker is the only female to have been awarded our nation’s highest honor. Sally Tompkins ran a confederate military hospital in Richmond during the war. Not only did her hospital take the most severe cases during the Civil War, but the staff achieved the best patient outcomes. She was the only woman to receive an officer’s commission (a captaincy) in the Confederate Army during the war. She returned her salary to the Confederate government, but kept the commission as it allowed her to issue orders and to draw supplies for the hospital from the Confederate commissary. Tompkins ran the hospital, made medical decisions, purchased supplies, nursed, *****d meals for the patients and kept records. Her hospital had the lowest death rate of any Confederate hospital – with only 73 deaths out of 1,333 admissions. Ahead of her time in many ways, historians believe that the low death rate was due to her emphasis on cleanliness and a proper diet.
Miss Clara Barton. Mathew Brady Collection. (Army)
Exact Date Unknown
As in the Revolutionary War, women sometimes disguised themselves and enlisted to fight. It was relatively easy for them to pass through the recruiter’s station, since few questions were asked – as long as one looked the part. Women bound their breasts when necessary, padded the waists of their trousers, and cut their hair short. A former slave, Cathay Williams, served in a somewhat similar capacity. Swept up by the Union XIII Corps in Jefferson City, Missouri, on the way to Vicksburg, she became a cook and laundress. She ended up in the household of Major General Philip Sheridan in 1864. After the Civil War, Williams made her way back to the Midwest, where as “William Cathay” she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in Company A, 38th U.S. Infantry. There she served for two years until she became ill and was discovered by a post physician. She was discharged at Fort Bayard, New Mexico on 14 October 1868.
As in previous wars, women served as military spies and espionage agents during the course of the Civil War. Harriet Tubman is well known for her work on the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War. Fewer people know, however, that Tubman organized and led a group of scouts (freed black slaves) under the direction of General Rufus Saxton in the Beaufort, South Carolina, area in 1863. The scouts, many of whom were river pilots and who knew the area intimately, made repeated trips up the rivers and into the swamps and marshes to obtain information about Confederate troop strength and defenses. They also surveyed plantations and towns, looking for slaves they could enlist in the Union Army. Using information obtained by Tubman and her scouts, Colonel James Montgomery, who commanded the 2nd South Carolina Volunteers (a black unit), conducted a series of river raids to acquire supplies and to destroy enemy torpedoes, railroads, bridges commissaries, cotton, and plantation homes.
WORLD WAR I (1917-1918) AND INTERWAR YEARS
When the United States government declared war on Germany in the spring of 1917, Congress passed the Selective Service Act requiring the registration of all males between the ages of twenty and thirty (later changed to eighteen and forty-five). On June 5, 1917, over 9.5 million men signed up for the “great national lottery.” By war’s end over 24 million men had registered for the draft. Over 4.8 million served in the armed forces, nearly 2 million were deployed to the Western Front in France. Women quickly felt the impact of the nation’s decision to go to war. When roughly 16% of the male work force trooped off to battle, the call went out to women to fill the vacancies in shops, factories and offices across the country. Eventually 20% or more of all workers in the wartime manufacture of electrical machinery, airplanes, and food were women. At the same time they came to dominate the formerly male preserve as clerical workers, telephone operators, typists, and stenographers. Such skills, along with nursing, would be needed both on the home front and at the fighting front in the “War to End All Wars.”
The National Service School was organized by the Woman's Naval Service in 1916 to train women for duties in time of war and national disaster. The Army, Navy, and the Marine Corps cooperated to train thousands of women for national service. Women were taught food conservation, military calisthenics and drill, land telegraphy or telephone operating, how to manufacture surgical dressings and bandages, signal work and many other skills. More than 35,000 American women served in the military during World War I. The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps were the first to actively solicit women to help fill the gap in male recruits and to free up combat troops for service. Thousands applied for the 300 or so positions as Marine Corps Yeoman, while another 11,000 women answered the Navy’s call to become “Yeomanettes.” They ultimately occupied a wide variety of noncombat duty positions, from radio electricians and draftsmen to secretaries, accountants, telephone operators and more. Over half of the women who served in the United States armed forces in World War I – roughly 21,000 in all – belonged to the Army Nurse Corps, and performed heroic service in camp and station hospitals at home and abroad. Like their Civil War and Spanish American War predecessors, they found themselves on many occasions working close to or at the front — living in bunkers and makeshift tents with few comforts. Women experienced all the horror of sustained artillery barrages and the debilitating effects of mustard gas while taking care of soldiers and civilians alike.
The Army Signal Corps recruited and trained at least 230 telephone operators – the “Hello Girls” for duty overseas. The Signal Corps women traveled and lived under Army orders from the date of their acceptance until their termination from service. Their travel orders and per diem allowance orders read “same as Army nurses in Army regulations.” They were required to purchase uniforms designed by the Army, with Army insignia and buttons. When the war ended and the telephone operators were no longer needed, the Army unceremoniously hustled the women home and refused to grant them official discharges, claiming that they had never officially been “in” the service. The women believed differently, however, and for years pressured Congress to recognize their services. Finally, after considerable Congressional debate, the Signal Corps telephone operators of World War I were granted military status in 1979, years after the majority of them had passed away.
At various times during the war, the Quartermaster Corps sent women secretaries and clerks overseas under contract. These women were always clearly civilian workers; there was never any confusion regarding their status. A Memorandum to the Quartermaster General dated August 1918 lists by name and address fifteen stenographers who went to Europe under contract. Other memos describe the necessary qualifications the women had to meet, their job responsibilities, their salaries, and the quarters assigned to them in Europe. Later memos list the names of additional women sent overseas and the division or branch to which they were assigned.
Women in the U.S. Army
Women Pilots of WWII: Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) & The Women Airforce Service Pilots(WASP)
On 10 September 1942, Nancy Harkness Love, with the support of the U.S. Air Transport Command, organized 25 women pilots into the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS). WAFS headquarters were located at New Castle Army Air Base in Delaware; later other ferrying squadron centers were established. The purpose of the WAFS was to deliver planes from the factory to military bases. For consideration of service in the WAFS, a woman had to be between 21 and 35, have a minimum of 500 hours flying time, possess a commercial license, and have at least a 250 horsepower rating. She must also pass a rigorous physical exam and successfully complete ground school instruction (usually a month in duration). The instruction consisted of navigation; meteorology; radio and Morse code; use of firearms; military courtesy and discipline; military law; and instrument training. The 25 original WAFS had an average of 1,100 flying time when they were accepted in the program. Forty women wore the WAFS uniform (which they had to pay for) before it was merged into the WASP.
Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Jacqueline Cochran, one of the most well known aviators of that time, tried to interest the Army Air Corps in women pilots who would be trained to fly military aircraft within the United States. Her failure to do so prompted her to recruit a group of women pilots to serve in the British Air Transport Auxiliary; she accompanied them to England, then returned to the U.S. to recruit a second group when she learned the WAF had been created and convinced General "Hap" Arnold of the Army Air Corps that the WAF would be unable to supply all the women pilots that would be needed. Both Jacqueline Cochran and General Arnold were opposed to enrollment of women pilots in the WAC.
On 16 November 1942, Cochran established the Women's Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) at Howard Hughes Airport in Houston, Texas, with an initial class of 25 women who were required to have 200 hours flying time and a commercial license. The mission of the WFTD was to perform whatever flight duties the Army Air Corps required within the United States. They ferried planes, tested them, delivered them for repair, performed check flights, put flying time on new engines, towed targets for anti-aircraft gunnery practice; flew searchlight tracking missions, instructed male pilot cadets, and performed many other tasks. Later, when the organization was moved to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, Cochran began accepting women cadets into an intensive training program. The cadets had to be licensed pilots with at least 35 hours of flying time.
Four members of the United States Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) receive final instructions as they chart a cross-country course on the flight line of a U.S. airport. Assigned to the ferrying division of the United States Army Air Transport Command, the women pilots belong to the first class of American women to complete a rigorous nine-week transitional flight training course in handling B-26 Marauder medium bombers. They have been given special assignments with the U.S. Army Air Forces as tow target pilots. (National Archives).
On 5 August 1943, the WAFS and WFTD merged into the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) with Cochran as director of the WASP and its Training Division and Nancy Love as director of the Ferrying Division. In the 16 months the WASP existed, more than 25,000 women applied for training; only 1,879 candidates were accepted. Of these, 1,074 successfully completed the grueling program at Avenger Field, a better "wash-out" rate than the 50% of male pilot cadets.
Cochran pressed for full militarization of the WASP but resisted making it part of the WAC; she insisted it remain a women's pilot organization whose members could only be assigned to flight duties. One of her reasons for this was that WAC recruits had to be at least 21 years old and could not have children under 14 (some of the WASP's most experienced pilots were mothers of young children). WASP were accepted as young as 18 if the woman had a pilot's license and flight experience. General Arnold asked General William E. Han, Deputy Chief of the Air Staff for permission to commission WASP directly as Service Pilots, a procedure the
Air Transport Command used routinely with male civilian pilots. On 13 January 1944, the Comptroller General of the Army Air Forces ruled against these practices. Then Cochran and Arnold went back to Congress where a bill (HR 4219) to make the WASP a women's service within the U.S. Army Air Force had been ignored since its introduction in September 1941. However, on 21 June 1944, it was defeated by 19 votes, despite vigorous lobbying efforts.
On 20 December 1944, the WASPs were disbanded. General Amold's letter of notification to the WASPs stated, "When we needed you, you came through and have served most commendably under very difficult circumstances, but now the war situation has changed and the time has come when your volunteer services are no longer needed. The situation is that if you continue in service, you will be replacing instead of releasing our young men. I know the WASP wouldn't want that. I want you to know that I appreciate your war service and the AAF will miss you..."
On 20 September 1977, a select House subcommittee on veteran affairs heard testimony on Bill 3277, which recognized WASP service as active duty in the armed forces and entitled them to veterans' benefits. It was strongly supported by both houses of Congress and Senator Barry Goldwater, who had flown with the WASP in World War II; he led the move to get the bill passed. The bill was vehemently opposed by the American Legion on the grounds that "would denigrate the term 'veteran' so that it will never again have the value that presently attaches to it." Controversy went back and forth with the Veterans Administration opposing the bill and the Department of Defense supporting it. Then on 19 October, Senator Barry Goldwater attached the bill as an amendment to the "GI Bill Improvement Act," HR 8701; however, the committee chairs planned to strip the WASP amendment during the reconciliation process. This prompted two women representatives of the House (Rep. Margaret Heckler & Rep.
Liddy Boggs) to take action, and members of both houses were inundated with calls, letters, and telegrams supporting the WASP amendment. A compromise was finally reached that if the Air Force would certify that the WASP had been de facto military personnel during the war, the WASP amendment would not be stripped. The Air Force certified the WASP and in making their determination used the discharge papers of WASP Helen Porter, 1944, which read, “This is to certify that Helen Porter honorably served in active Federal Service of the Army of the United States," the same wording used in 1944 for all honorable discharges in the Army. HR 8701, as amended, passed the House with unanimous consent. On 23 November 1977, President Carter signed the bill into law.
Women in the U.S. Army
WAAC / WAC
FROM AUXILIARY STATUS TO ARMY STATUS, WOMEN'S ARMY CORPS (WAC)
January 1943, Congresswoman EdithIn Nourse Rogers introduced identical bills both houses of Congress to permit the enlistment and commissioning of women in the Army of the United States (AUS, or reserve forces, as opposed to regular enlistments in the United States Army). On 1 July 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law legislation which changed the name of the corps to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and made it part of the AUS. On 5 July 1943, Oveta Culp Hobby was administered the oath as the first Director, Women's Army Corps, with the rank of Colonel, AUS.
The U.S. Army is, and always has been, a reflection of American society and values. American society was racially segregated in the 1940s, so too was the Army – and the Women’s Army Corps. That fact did not prevent minority women from serving their country. Photographs and letters can help tell the stories of African American WACs who served in such units as the 6888th Postal Battalion, and on segregated posts such as Fort Huachuca, Arizona, Fort Riley, Kansas, and elsewhere. There were also Nisei WACs, many of whom joined the Army even though their parents were confined to relocation camps in the West. A battalion of Puerto Rican WACs that served together at the New York Port of Embarkation. And other Hispanic and Native American WACs who served with distinction.
WAC reinforcements arriving from the United States disembark from an LCT on Le Havre beach, France.
July 22, 1945. (National Archives)
During World War II, members of the WAC were assigned to the Army Air Forces (AAF), Army Ground Forces (AGF), and the Army Service Forces (ASF). At first, job opportunities were limited, but soon a wide array of positions were available to women
The AAF gave women new and less conventional assignments: Air WACs were assigned as weather forecasters, weather observers, electrical specialists, sheet ****l workers, link trainer instructors, control tower specialists, airplane mechanics, photo-laboratory technicians, and photo interpreter
AGF WACs were assigned to Armor and Cavalry Schools and worked as radio mechanics, taking care of records and requisitions involving radio equipment, repairing and installing radios in tanks, bantams, and other vehicles, both in camps and in bivouac areas, Field Artillery—training men in code sending and receiving and at the Parachute School, Fort Benning, Georgia, over one hundred women were utilized in parachute rigging.
The ASF, which comprised the nine service commands, the Military District of Washington and the Technical Services, offered a large number and wide variety of jobs. The Signal Corps used women as telephone operators, radio operators, teletype operators, cryptographers, cryptanalysts, and photographic experts. One of the most important projects WAC units were assigned to was the atomic bomb project "Manhattan District". The Technical Service, which employed WACs, was the Transportation Corps, which used women to assist in processing troops and mail. Women served as medical and surgical technicians or in other capacities within the Medical Department. Administrative Services using women were the Adjutant General's Corps, Chemical Warfare Service, Quartermaster Corps, Finance Department, Provost Marshal, Corps of Chaplains.
The 1st WAAC Separate Battalion arrived in England, part of the European Theater of Operations, in July 1943 led by LTC Mary A. Hallaren. In the fall and early winter of 1943, WAC units were sent into other theaters around the world. In October, they deployed to the Southeast Asia Command with headquarters in New Delhi, India. In November, WAC units moved from North Africa into Italy, following the Allied invasion of that country.
In December, the first group of WACs arrived in Cario, Egypt. In 1944, as Allied Forces took the initiative both in Europe and the Far East, WAC units moved into support areas behind the combat troops. January 1944 marked the arrival of the first WAC in the Pacific Theater of Operations, into New Caledonia. In May 1944, the first contingent assigned to the Southwest Pacific arrived in Sydney, Australia. Landing crafts (LSTs) put WACs ashore on the Normandy beachhead in July 1944. At the same time, others began assuming duties in the China-Burma-India Theater. The women of the Corps went where they were needed – to Oro Bay, to Hollandia, to Casablanca, to Chunking, and to Manila.
Women in the U.S. Army
WORLD WAR II (1942-1945)
Although the idea of women in the Army other than the Army Nurse Corps was not completely abandoned following World War I, it was not until the threat of world war loomed again that renewed interest was given to this issue. In May 1941, the Honorable Edith Nourse Rogers, Congresswoman from Massachusetts, introduced a bill for the creation of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Spurred on by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, Congress approved the creation of the WAAC on 14 May 1942. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill into law on 15 May, and on 16 May Oveta Culp Hobby was sworn in as the first Director. Mrs. Hobby was a nearly unanimous choice of the War Department because of her work in the department's Bureau of Public Relations. The WAAC was established "for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of women of the nation." The WAAC adopted Pallas Athene, Greek goddess of victory and womanly virtue, wise in peace and in the arts of war, as its symbol. Pallas Athene and the traditional "U.S." were worn as lapel insignia. Cap insignia was an eagle, adapted from the design of the Army eagle. The WAAC eagle, later familiarly known as "the Buzzard", was also imprinted on the plastic buttons of the uniform.
Upon arrival at Le Havre, France, from the U.S. WAC reinforcements board U.S. Army Trucks theat will carry them to camp in a nearby area.August 7, 1945 (National Archives).
The first WAAC Training Center opened at Fort Des Moines, Iowa (an old Cavalry Post) under the command of Colonel Don C. Faith, and the arrival of the first women and their subsequent training brought considerable public interest. The first women arrived at Fort Des Moines on 20 July 1942. Among them were 125 enlisted women and 440 officer candidates (40 of which were black) who had been selected to attend the WAAC Officer Candidate School (OCS). After OCS, black officers and white officers were segregated. The issuance of uniforms was the main initial interest for the trainees and the public alike. Almost all the saleswomen and fitters in Des Moines were mobilized at the clothing warehouse to assist the WAAC with the new uniform. The first winter service uniform was a dark olive-drab wool with matching service cap (the "Hobby Hat"), and the first summer service uniform was the same style made of heavy cotton khaki.
Women from ages 21 to 45 could enlist; however, training for women was limited. Training at Fort Des Moines involved primarily drill and ceremonies, military customs and courtesies, map reading, company administration, supply and mess management. WAAC proved to be good soldiers, mastering training with ease. After training, unless she remained at the training center to replace a male member of the cadre, the WAAC officer or enlisted person was assigned to a 150-woman table of organization (TO) company. Such units had spaces only for clerks, typists, drivers, cooks, and unit cadre.Stateside, the basic rate of pay for enlisted women and men was the same, $21.00 per month. However, women could not receive overseas pay; they were ineligible for government life insurance; if they were killed, their parents could not collect the death gratuity. If they became sick or were wounded, they would be entitled to veteran's hospitalization. By the end of September 1942, the first WAAC Training Center at Fort Des Moines was training to capacity. The need for additional training space prompted the establishment of four additional training centers over the next few months.
In the beginning, the WAAC exceeded all its recruiting goals, but by June 1943 recruiting efforts had fallen. Higher paying jobs in civilian industry, unequal benefits with men, and attitudes within the Army itself, which had existed as an overwhelmingly male institution from its beginnings, were factors. A War Department investigation of male soldiers' treatment of their female counterparts confirmed some negative attitudes.
VICTORY IN EUROPE, VICTORY OVER
JAPAN AND THE END OF WORLD WAR II
Early on the morning of 7 May 1945, Colonel General Alfred Jodl of the German High Command signed the terms of an unconditional surrender in Reims, France, and V-E Day was proclaimed for 8 May. After the war, WAACs had no legal re-employment rights, no peacetime component or even an inactive reserve. Without these rights, jobs for women would be scarce in peacetime. For this reason, Colonel Hobby favored disbanding the WAC as soon as the war ended. Congress provided re-employment rights for WAACs and WACs on 9 August 1946.
In World War II, 160 members of the Women's Army Corps died from various non-combat causes. More than 639 medals were awarded to members of the WAC to includ the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Soldier's Medal, Bronze Star, Air Medal, and the purple Heart. Three presidential citations were received as a result of service in the European Theater of Operations.
POST-WORLD WAR II
The period immediately following World War II was one of uncertainty and constant change for WAC personnel.
Demobilization progressed rapidly. Some WACs remained on active duty both in the Continental United States and with the Armies of Occupation in Europe and the Far East while others decided to return home with their memories and souvenirs from the war. In August 1945, enlistments in the Women's Army Corps closed. The WAC schools and training centers also closed. Then in February 1946, Army Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the preparation of legislation to make the Women's Army Corps a permanent part of the Army. LTC Mary Louise Milligan (later Rasmuson) became a consultant/planner for the project. Colonel Hallaren, third director of the WAC, became the recognized leader in the fight for passage of the legislation. In September 1947, the bill was combined with the WAVES/Women Marines bill and a section to include women in the Air Force was added. The bill was renamed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. President Truman signed the act on 12 June 1948.
In July 1948, the first enlisted women entered the Regular Army and in December, the first WAC officers received Regular Army appointments. Women could enlist from ages 18 to 35. Enlistment under age 21 required parental or guardian consent. Women were no longer sent to a TO unit of 150 women, but received individual assignments. Enlistments in the Women's Army Corps, Regular Army, opened to civilians in September 1948, and on 4 October, the Women's Army Corps Training Center opened at Camp Lee, Virginia.
The first officer commissioned in the WAC, Regular Army, Colonel Hallaren, was sworn in and appointed Director, WAC, on 3 December 1948. On 12 June 1949, eleven applicants were offered appointments as WAC warrant officers junior grade, Regular Army (seven accepted). Then on 15 June 1949, the first WAC Organized Reserve Corps training was initiated. To obtain more WAC officers, the first direct commissions were offered that year to women college graduates as 2d lieutenants in the Organized Reserve Corps.
KOREAN WAR (1950-1953)
On 27 June 1950, President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. air and naval forces into the Republic of Korea. With the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, the WAC strength authorization increased. WAC officers were involuntarily recalled to active duty, and those who had been the first to enlist when the Women's Armed Services Integration Act passed in 1948, were caught in involuntary extensions.
Approximately 20 percent of WACs served overseas during the Korean War era. In the Far East Theater, WACs were needed to work in direct support of the combat theater in hospitals, and as communicators, supply specialist, record keepers and administrators in Japan and Okinawa. Just as important were the services of those WACs sent to Cold War Europe. Political and military leaders in the U.S. were so worried that the Soviet Union would try to take advantage of the U.S.’s preoccupation with Korea that they increased the numbers of Army and Air Force troops stationed in western Europe. WACs assigned to Europe worked mainly as cryptographers, supply, intelligence, and communication specialists, and hospital technicians.
Although a WAC Unit was not established in Korea, individual WACs served in Korea on special assignments. The Korean Women's Army Corps formed in 1950 around a group of policewomen trained by a former WAC, Alice A. Parrish. In 1952, a number of individual WAC officers and enlisted women filled key administrative positions in Pusan and later in Seoul.
POST-KOREAN WAR ERA
In 1950, the Army initiated action to establish a permanent training center and home for the Women's Army Corps on Fort McClellan. The new center opened in early 1956, and included a headquarters with supporting personnel; a basic training battalion; and a Women's Army Corps School that trained enlisted women in typing, stenography, and clerical duties.
An Officer Candidate School prepared enlisted women to serve as officers, and a WAC Officer Basic Course trained women with college degrees. On 1 August 1956, the first foreign women officers (six Burmese) entered WAC Officer Basic Class. These were the first of many foreign women to train at Fort McClellan. The first commander of the center was LTC Eleanore C. Sullivan. She also held the position of Commandant of the WAC School, and on 3 January 1957, Colonel Mary Louise Milligan was appointed Director, WAC, replacing Colonel Irene Galloway. Colonel Galloway's tenure included increased military pay and reenlistment bonuses, the Army's new MOS Management System for enlisted personnel, and the WAC move to its new home.
Not long after the establishment of the center, in March 1956, the Army Uniform Board approved the concept of a women's green winter service uniform and a two-piece green cord uniform for summer. The first in the women's green uniform ensemble was the Army green cord suit, issued in March 1959. The women's Army green service uniform was issued in July 1960. These two uniforms marked the beginning of the Army green for women; men had received theirs earlier. The development of the Army green uniform for both men and women marked another move toward equity between men and women soldiers which continued into other areas.
The first WAC officer was assigned to Vietnam in March 1962. It was not until 1965 that the use of WAC personnel in support elements was considered feasible for Vietnam. It was decided that WACs could make positive contributions, particularly in clerical, secretarial, and administrative MOSs. During this period, 1 August 1966, Colonel Elizabeth P. Hoisington was appointed seventh Director, WAC.
A WAC detachment of enlisted women was assigned to Headquarters, USARV, first at Ton Son Nhut Airbase in 1966, and then at the headquarters in Long Binh, from 1967 to October 1972. While engineers readied new barracks at Long Binh, the women lived in a building typical of the tropics, with openings between outer wallboards and no windows. Red dust covered their rooms during the dry season, and rain soaked them during the wet season. The official uniform at that time was the green cord; however, most WACs chose to wear fatigues because of the living conditions. WACs continued to serve in Vietnam until the withdrawal of troops in 1973. Few problems of arose during the seven years that WACs served in Vietnam although they did receive scrapes and bruises diving for cover from incoming artillery fire since the ammunition depot at Long Binh was a frequent enemy target.
Public Law 90-130, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on 8 November 1967, removed promotion restrictions on women officers in the Armed Forces. Thereafter, it was possible for more than one women in each service to hold the rank of colonel and for women to achieve general (or flag) officer rank. The first WAC officer to be promoted to brigadier general was Colonel Elizabeth P. Hoisington, on 11 June 1970, while serving as the seventh Director of the Women's Army Corps. Colonel Anna Mae Hays, Chief Army Nurse Corps, was promoted on the same day. A year later, when General Hoisington retired, her successor as Director, WAC, Colonel Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey was promoted to brigadier general concurrently with being appointed Director, WAC. The ninth and last Director of the Corps, Colonel Mary E. Clarke was promoted to brigadier general on 1 August 1975. PL 90-130 also removed retirement restrictions on women officers and the 2 percent limitation on WAC numbers and permitted WACs to be appointed in the Army National Guard and Air Guard. PL 36,80th Congress, 16 April 1947 allowed women in the Army Medical Department in the Army National Guard and Air Guard.
The Vietnam era also marked other changes and the beginning of two other advancements for women. On 30 March 1968, SGM Yzetta L. Nelson, assigned to WAC Training Battalion, became the first WAC promoted to Command Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank. On 9 April 1971, Army regulations permitted WAC to request waivers for retention on active duty if married and pregnant. In February 1972, enlisted women entered Drill Sergeants Courses at Fort Jackson, S.C.
POST VIETNAM AND THE EXPANSION OF WOMEN ENLISTMENTS
In August 1972, all military occupational specialties (MOSs) opened to WAC officers and enlisted women except those that might require combat training or duty. The advent of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973 made a large difference in the numbers of women coming into the Army. As a result of recruitment and greater opportunities, the total number of WACs in the Army increased from 12,260 in 1972 to 52,900 in 1978. Army women had been allowed to rig parachutes during World War II, but could not participate in parachute jumps.
In 1950 a Parachute Rigger Course was added to the Quartermaster School curriculum at Fort Lee, Virginia. It was not initially open to female soldiers since they were not “jump-qualified.” That changed in 1972 when 43E was added to WAC active duty list of available MOSs. Within months, female soldiers were graduating from the parachute rigger course, assigned to airborne units around the country, and were jumping with their own chutes.
The move to the All-Volunteer Force led the Army to begin recruiting women aggressively for the Reserve components. As with the active force, recruiting, training, and opportunities improved for women, and by the end of September 1978, the Army Reserve had approximately 25,000 WACs and the Army National Guard had over 13,000. Women entered the Army Reserve Officers Training Program (ROTC) beginning in September 1972. South Dakota State University was the first to graduate women in the college ROTC program, on 1 May 1976. By May 1981, approximately 40,000 women were enrolled in college and university ROTC units throughout the United States. Young women (age 14) could enter the Junior ROTC in 1972. By May 1981, over 32,000 were enrolled in the high school units.
Weapons training for women became mandatory in June 1975. In 1976, the weapons training program was expanded to include additional small arms weapons, the light antitank weapon (LAW), the 40-mm grenade launcher, the Claymore mine, and the M60 machine gun. Weapons training began with training on the Ml6 rifle. Women officers, warrant officers, cadets, and officer candidates received the same weapons training as men. By 1977, combined basic training for men and women became policy after a test conducted at Fort Jackson the year before.
Vietnam, elimination of the draft, and the rise of the Feminist Movement had an impact on the Women's Army Corps. There was a renewed emphasis on parity and increased opportunity for women in uniform. On 24 May 1974, Congress reduced the minimum age for enlistment of women to the same as men – age 17 with parental consent (18 without), effective 1 April 1976. On 7 October 1975, President Ford signed Public Law 94-106 that permitted women to be admitted to all service academies beginning in 1976. On 1 January 1976, length of long tours in overseas areas was increased from twenty-four months to thirty-six months for single females, the same as tours for single males. On 30 June 1975, the Secretary of Defense directed elimination of involuntary discharge of military women because of pregnancy and parenthood. September 1975 also brought changes in the WAC uniform. The mint green uniform replaced the green cord. A dark green pantsuit was approved for issue. Four sets of fatigues and two pair of field boots were issued to enlisted women.
On 8 July 1977, the first gender-integrated class of Military Police One-Station-Unit-Training began at Fort McClellan. In September 1977, WACs participated for the first time in the NATO REFORGER Exercise in Germany – something Army nurses had been doing already, since 1971. The need for a separate Women's Army Corps faded as women assimilated into male training, assignments, and logistics and administrative management. In a ceremony at the Pentagon on 28 April 1978, the Army formally dissolved the position of Director, WAC. General Clarke was immediately reassigned as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Military Police and Chemical Corps Schools and Training Center, Fort McClellan. Congress passed a law in September 1978 that disestablished the WAC as a separate Corps of the Army effective 20 October 1978.
A NEW ERA
Disestablishment of the WAC signaled an increasingly important role for women within the Army. In September 1977, men and women began training in the same basic training units at Fort McClellan and Fort Jackson and in
October 1978 at Fort Dix and Fort Leonard Wood.
Enlistment qualifications became the same for men and women by order of the Secretary of the Army on 1 October 1979. An act of Congress passed in October 1975 directing the Academy to accept women into its training program in 1976. The first women cadets graduated form the United States Military Academy, West Point New York in 1980. Since then, women have continued to enter every class at the United States Military Academy. In August 1982, the Secretary of Defense ordered the increase in Army enlisted women’s strength from 65,000 to 70,000 and officers from 9,000 to 13,000, including medical personnel.
Women in the Army had opportunities equal to men to receive defensive weapons training, but could not be assigned to direct combat positions. However, women were trained as combat pilots on some aircraft. Women worked as pilots, intelligence officers, logistic specialists, support roles for the infantry, paratroopers, mechanics, and virtually in every role except direct combat. On 3 May 1982, the Army's first experience with gender-integrated training came to an end when the Chief of Staff announced a return to separate basic training.
The last two decades of the twentieth have witnessed
enormous changes in U.S. military policy, doctrine, tactics, weapons and equipment. With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the end of the Cold War, the U.S. has emerged as the sole super power in the world today.
While the chances for nuclear confrontation with former Eastern Block countries has all but disappeared, the world remains a dangerous place. The U.S. Army has been called upon repeatedly throughout the 1980s and 90s to respond to regional conflicts, natural disasters, and humanitarian crises – all of which at times have threatened to disrupt international peace and security, or have cried out for humanitarian relief. The Army has responded with a series of contingency force operations that have invariably included female soldiers as key players throughout.