History of Women in Army

Published 23 Jun 2017

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor new demands on labor-for war plants, for the Army, for the Navy-Americans began to face the reality that manpower shortages would occur in the near future. Enormous numbers of guns and planes had to be produced for the increasing numbers of American soldiers and sailors. The crisis changed the nature of the questions about women in the Army.

The idea of women serving in the army was mooted first in 1941 before the Japanese attack, as Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers had introduced a bill to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Her proposal meant for women to fill clerical positions in the army. George C. Marshall, the chief of Army staff accepted the idea and thought that during wartime such a corps will help release men from administrative jobs and make them available for combat duties. That bill was never passed.

Mrs. Rogers introduced another bill in January 1942 for a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps of 150,000 women for non-combatant duties. In a surprise move, she added an amendment that would give women military status and the right to be enlisted and appointed in the Army on the same basis as men. To Mrs. Rogers’ dismay, the amendment immediately generated bitter controversy on the floor of the House. While congressmen could accept the idea of a women’s auxiliary to ease a manpower shortage, they objected to giving women military status as well as the rights and benefits of veterans.

Several precedents existed to buttress the granting of military status to women in the Army. In 1901 Congress had established a Nurse Corps (Female) in the Army Medical Department of the Regular Army. The nurses served under contract-they did not receive commissions-but in 1920 Congress gave them “relative rank.” This meant they could hold the rank of second lieutenant, first lieutenant, captain, or major and could wear officers’ insignia.

Though they still lacked most of the privileges of regular officers, the nurses had gained some significant military status. In 1926, Congress authorized Army nurses a retirement pension based on length of service and, in 1930, added a pension for disability incurred in the line of duty. The Navy Nurse Corps (Female), established in 1907, followed the Army Nurse Corps’ organization and offered similar status and benefits.

On 14 May 1942, after all debate ended, Congress established a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), but did not grant its members military status. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the compromise bill; An Act to Establish the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps became Public Law (PL) 77-554.

Mrs. Rogers drafted another bill that was approved by General Marshall and introduced into the Congress, the 78th, in January 1943. The Senate approved the bill on 15 February 1943, but members of the House questioned the effects of the change in status. Six months of debate and compromise passed before the bill was approved by both houses and signed by President Roosevelt on 1 July 1943. An Act to Establish the Women’s Army Corps in the Army of the United States became Public Law 78-110.

Throughout the world war the women of WAAC and WAC were used for non-combatant positions. It was in the post world war that the armed forces integration act was passed. This amendment to the original act that established WAC and WAAC allowed women to be assigned to duties in the USAF.

About 1100 WAC officers applied for the regularisation of their commissions, only 333 were approved. The first officer commissioned in the WAC, Regular Army, was Colonel Hallaren. She was sworn in and appointed director of the WAC in a ceremony in the chief of staff’s office on 3 December 1948. She received Army serial number L-1.

When In 1947, Colonel Hallaren proposed including women in the Organized Reserve on an equal basis with men, the judge advocate general had reacted with disbelief and astonishment to her suggestion that women might enter the male reserve branches. That, however, was exactly what she had in mind. But the Army tradition of appointing, enlisting, training, and assigning its male personnel by branch was too strong. Whatever the Army did, it did by branch. So the WAC had to have a branch in the Regular Army and WAC sections in the Officers’ Reserve Corps and the Enlisted Reserve Corps. The overall adviser to the Army on reserve matters, the executive for reserve and ROTC affairs, established a WAC branch within his division and named Lt. Col. Kathleen McClure as its chief. She would prepare plans and policies and coordinate them with the director of the WAC.

WAC officers on active duty in 1948 could apply for appointment in the Officers’ Reserve Corps and remain on active duty by signing an active duty commitment statement. Former WAC AUS officers who had been demobilized could also apply and, if accepted, request return to active duty. If they did not want full-time active duty, they could request assignment to a reserve unit near home. Women who had no previous military service could not apply for appointment in the Officers’ Reserve Corps because no women’s officer training program existed in the reserves. Such women could, if they wished, take the circuitous route of enlisting in the Regular Army, obtaining a commission through WAC Officer Candidate School, and, upon completing two years of active duty, returning to civilian life and being assigned to a reserve unit near their homes.

Unlike their Regular Army counterparts, former WAC officers could serve in the inactive reserve regardless of marital status or dependents.

Over the years the number of women in active armed services has grown. Women have been appointed generals and given units of their own to manage. They also enjoy equal rights as their male counterparts and are also enlist in reserve.


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