Women in the Military

Women in the Military

On June 12, 1948, President Harry Truman signed into law the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, acknowledging the contributions women have made to the military and allowing women to serve as “regular” members of the U.S. Armed Forces and Reserves for the first time.

During World War II, four special opportunities were approved by Congress for women to enlist: the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), the Navy women’s Reserve (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (WR) and the Coast Guard Women Reserves (SPARS).

Increasing Cold War tension, and the Army’s inability to recruit enough male volunteers, prompted Congress to take this action. The number of women who could serve was capped at 2% of all personnel and prohibited their participation in combat.

Although women were granted full service status during the war, this legislation was set to expire in 1948. Two years before its expiration, Army leadership requested that enlisted women become permanent members, leading to vigorous legislative debate.

In a speech to the U.S. House of Representatives in April 1948, Representative Margaret Chase Smith (Maine) stated, “The issue is simple – either the armed services have a permanent need of women officers and enlisted women or they do not. If they do, then women must be given permanent status.”

Additional support for this legislation came from Edith L. Stallings, who had served in the WAVES from 1942 to 1947 before becoming dean at the University of Georgia. In a letter to the Chairman of the U.S. House Armed Forces Service Committee in early 1948, she stated “Surely a congress which concerns itself with the basic democratic principles on which our country stands today and for which it is possible -if not probable – we may have to fight tomorrow, will not hesitate to give the women of America – a good half of its total citizens – the right to actively participate in its protection and defense.”

There are roughly 2 million living women Veterans today; an estimated 15,300 in Iowa (2018). To increase awareness about women veterans, their expertise, and their experiences, the Department of Veterans Affairs created I Am Not Invisible, a virtual exhibit modeled after an exhibit created by the Oregon Department of Veteran’s Affairsto display this diverse and important segment of the Veteran population.

Vet Girls RISE is a newer initiative intended to provide resources and information to women veterans, helping them transition from military to civilian life. National Vet Girls RISE day was first recognized on February 19, 2019, and is now to be observed as a national day to honor women who were members of the United States military service.

After decades of incremental progress, women have overcome some gender barriers and taken on roles in our nation’s defense. The numbers remain small, but it’s important to note that today, women are increasingly taking roles in our military and in law enforcement. Women bring special and unique skills to these professions, and I believe we will see the numbers rise in the future. Next week, I’ll share why.