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A HISTORY OF WOMEN IN THE U.S. ARMY
EARLY WOMEN SOLDIERS
During the American Revolutionary War, women served the U.S. Army in traditional roles as nurses, seamstresses and cooks for troops in camp. In the 18th and 19th centuries, garrisons depended on women to make Soldiers’ 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 by carrying water to men on the battlefield in Monmouth, N.J. She even replaced 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 Gen. George 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 Washington.
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 and clerks. They also became 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.
(Image Right: Miss Clara Barton. Mathew Brady Collection (Army). Exact Date Unknown.)
As regiments faced the reality of war, some women rallied Soldiers to fight, bearing the regimental colors on the march, or even participated 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 shell 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.”
Clara Barton witnessed immense suffering on the battlefield as a nurse. She took 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 Chattanooga, Tennessee, Dr. Mary E. Walker served as assistant surgeon with Gen. Burnside’s Union forces in 1862, and with an Ohio regiment in East Tennessee the following year. Imprisoned in Richmond, Virginia, 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. Walker is the only female to have been awarded this highest honor.
Sally Tompkins ran a Confederate military hospital in Richmond, Virginia., 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, cooked 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.
During 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, Mississippi, she became a cook and laundress. She ended up in the household of Maj. Gen. 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. She served there for two years until she became ill and was discovered by a post physician. She was discharged at Fort Bayard, New Mexico.
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 before the Civil War. Fewer people know, however, that Tubman organized and led a group of scouts (freed black slaves) under the direction of Gen. Rufus Saxton in the area of Beaufort, South Carolina, 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, Col. 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 U.S. 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 20 and 30 (later changed to 18 and 45). On June 5, 1917, more than 9.5 million men signed up for the “great national lottery.” By war’s end, more than 24 million men had registered for the draft. More than 4.8 million served in the armed forces and 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 percent of the male work force trooped off to battle, the call went out to women to fill the vacancies in shops, factories and offices throughout the country. Eventually 20 percent 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 formerly masculine jobs 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 Women’s Naval Service in 1916 to train women for duties in time of war and national disasters. 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.
More than 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. They lived 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 15 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.
THE ARMY NURSE CORPS
Shortly after establishment of the Continental Army, June 14, 1775, Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates reported to Commander-in-Chief George Washington that “the sick suffered much for want of good female Nurses.” Washington then asked Congress for “a matron to supervise the nurses, bedding, etc.,” and for nurses “to attend the sick and obey the matron’s orders.”
In July 1775, a plan was submitted to the Second Continental Congress that provided one nurse for every 10 patients and provided “that a matron be allotted to every 100 sick or wounded.”
Many women served as nurses in the hospitals of both the Union and Confederate armies, also often performing their humanitarian service close to the fighting front or on the battlefields themselves – earning the undying respect and gratitude from those whom they served.
On June 10, 1861, two months after the Civil War began, the secretary of war appointed Dorothea Lynde Dix as superintendent of Women Nurses for the Union Army.
About 6,000 women performed nursing duties for the federal forces. It is estimated that some 181 black nurses served in convalescent and U.S. government hospitals during the war.
On April 28, 1898, at the onset of the Spanish-American War, the surgeon general requested and promptly received congressional authority to appoint women nurses under contract.
Dr. Anita Newcomb McGee, vice president of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was placed in charge of selecting graduate members for the Army. Military nursing had been almost dormant since the Civil War. This profession required a high level of competence and military nurses became known as “contract nurses” of the Army. Between 1898 and 1901, more than l,500 women nurses signed governmental contracts.
Contract nurses served in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, China, briefly in Japan and on the hospital ship Relief. Fifteen of these nurses died of typhoid fever and one of yellow fever.
The “Splendid Little War,” as Secretary of State John Hay once called it, exposed various shortcomings throughout the military structure, which in turn made the years after the turn of the century ripe for reform. Under the guidance of Secretary of War Elihu Root, a new chief of staff system was created, along with several other initiatives. During this time, mainly because of the exemplary performance of Army contract nurses during the Spanish-American War, the U.S. military realized that it would be helpful to have a corps of trained nurses, familiar with military ways, on call.
The Nurse Corps became a permanent corps of the Medical Department under the Army Reorganization Act (31 Stat. 753) passed by Congress, Feb. 2, 1901. Nurses were appointed to the regular Army for a 3-year period, although nurses were not actually commissioned as officers in the regular Army during that period of time. The appointment could be renewed provided the applicant had a “satisfactory record for efficiency, conduct and health.”
The law directed the surgeon general to maintain a list of qualified nurses who were willing to serve in an emergency. Therefore, provision was made to appoint a certain number of nurses with at least six months of satisfactory service in the Army on a reserve status. This was the first Reserve Corps authorized in the Army Medical Department, and the first ever reserve corps of women.
Dita H.Kinney, a former contract nurse, was officially appointed the first Superintendent of the Army Nurse Corps, or ANC, March 25, 1901, a position she held until she resigned in July 1909.
The United States entered World War I, April 6, 1917. There were 403 nurses on active duty, including 170 reserve nurses who had been ordered to duty at 12 Army hospitals in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.
By 1918, more than 12,000 nurses were on active duty serving at 198 stations worldwide. In May 1917, six base (general) hospitals with more than 400 nurses sailed for France for service in the British Expeditionary Forces.
Gen. John J. Pershing sent a cabled request “for a competent member of the Nurse Corps” to supervise nursing activities in the American Expeditionary Forces, Oct. 2, 1917. Bessie S. Bell, then chief nurse of Walter Reed General Hospital, reported to service, Nov. 13, 1917.
Army Nurse preparing medicine
The Army School of Nursing was authorized by the secretary of war as an alternative to utilizing nurses’ aides in Army hospitals, May 25, 1918. Courses of instruction opened at several Army hospitals during July 1918. Annie W. Goodrich was appointed under contract as chief inspector nurse for the Army; she became the first dean of the Army School of Nursing.
Army nurses during World War I did not have officer status. They were not commissioned, but appointed into the ANC. Medics sometimes refused to accept nurses’ authority on the wards. After the war, Congress, to show their appreciation, gave nurses officer status by allotting them “relative rank,” meaning that an Army nurse first lieutenant, for example, received less pay and status than a male first lieutenant.
As a sign of their valiant contribution during the Great War, Army nurses were awarded numerous medals – including the Distinguished Service Cross (an award ranked second only to the Medal of Honor).
Several nurses received wartime wounds, but none died as a result of enemy action. Approximately 200 did perish from influenza and pneumonia.
Army nurses played a critical role in the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918. It was (and remains) the single most deadly epidemic in modern times. An estimated 18 million people around the globe lost their lives as a result of having contracted the flu. People living and working in crowded Army posts, port towns, and urban areas were most susceptible to this highly contagious disease. More than 200 Army nurses lost their lives because they contracted influenza while nursing their patients on the wards.
Korean War (1950-1953)
Just like during World War II, Army nurses served in the combat theater very close to the extremely fluid front lines of the war. As a rule, they were the only military women allowed into the combat theater during this war.
Nurses served in Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals, or MASH, field hospitals, hospital trains, and – during the early weeks of the war – on Army transport ships.
In April 1965, with the rapid buildup of American forces in Vietnam, Army nurses were dispatched with medical units to support the fighting forces. The 8th Field Hospital, Nha Trang, had been the only U.S. Army hospital in country for three years. The 3rd Field Hospital, Saigon, was the first to arrive during the buildup.
After the removal of restrictions on the careers of female officers, women of the Army Nurse Corps and the Women’s Army Corps were authorized promotion consideration under the same promotion procedures applicable to men in the regular Army, Nov. 8, 1967.
Col. Anna Mae Hays, 13th Chief of the ANC, was promoted to brigadier general, the first nurse in the history of the American military to attain flag rank, June 11, 1970. She and Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, director, were promoted on the same day.
Thousands of U.S. Army nurses served in Vietnam between 1962 and 1973. The largest number for any single year was 900 in 1969. Several were wounded and nine died while serving. One of those who died, 1st Lt. Sharon A. Lane, was a victim of hostile fire.
The last of more than 5,000 nurses departed from the Republic of Vietnam two months after the cease-fire, March 29, 1973. Lt. Col. Marion L. Minter was the last chief nurse in Vietnam.
As with WAC in the 1970s, many changes also took place within the Army Nurse Corps. In March 1976, the authorized Army Reserve troop program’s strength was increased from approximately 1,900 to more than 5,100 officers. In April 1976, the Division of Nursing at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research transferred to the Department of Nursing, Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
By March 1980, more than 3,666 of the Army nurses on active duty – approximately 95 percent – had a baccalaureate degree or higher in nursing or a related career field. There were nurses on active duty in the United States, Hawaii, Alaska, Panama, Japan, Okinawa, the Republic of Korea, Germany, Italy, and Belgium.
Post-World War II (1945-1950)
The period immediately following World War II was one of uncertainty and constant change for Women’s Army Corps, or 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 WAC closed with the Corps’ schools and training centers also closed.
Then in February 1946, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower directed the preparation of legislation to make WAC a permanent part of the Army. Lt. Col. Mary Louise Milligan (later Rasmuson) became a consultant/planner for the project. Col. 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 Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law, June 12, 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 WAC, regular Army, opened to civilians in September 1948, and on Oct. 4, the Women’s Army Corps Training Center opened on Camp Lee, Va.
The first officer commissioned in WAC, regular Army, Hallaren, was sworn in and appointed as director of WAC, Dec. 3, 1948. On June 12, 1949, 11 applicants were offered appointments as WAC warrant officers junior grade, regular Army. Seven accepted.
Then on June 15, 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 second lieutenants in the Organized Reserve Corps.
Korean War (1950-1953)
President Harry S. Truman ordered U.S. air and naval forces into the Republic of Korea, June 27, 1950.. With the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, 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 specialists, record keepers and administrators.
Just as important were the services of those WACs sent to Cold War Europe. Political and military leaders in the United States were so worried that the Soviet Union would try to take advantage of the United States’ 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 was 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 (1953-1965)
In 1950, the Army initiated action to establish a permanent training center and home for the WAC on Fort McClellan, Alabama. 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.
The school 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.
The first foreign women officers (six women from Burma) entered WAC Officer Basic Class, Aug. 1, 1956. These were the first of many foreign women to train at Fort McClellan.
The first commander of the center was Lt. Col. Eleanore C. Sullivan. She also held the position of commandant of the WAC school.
Col. Mary Louise Milligan was appointed director, WAC, replacing Col. Irene Galloway, Jan. 3, 1957. Col. Galloway’s tenure included increased military pay and reenlistment bonuses, the Army’s new MOS Management System for enlisted personnel, and moving the WAC 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 during 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 military occupational specialties, or MOSs.
Col. Elizabeth P. Hoisington was appointed the 7th director of WAC, Aug. 1, 1966. 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 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 Nov. 8, 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 Hoisington, June 11, 1970, while serving as the 7th director of WAC. Col. Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps, was promoted on the same day.
A year later, when Hoisington retired, her successor as WAC director, Col. Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey, was promoted to brigadier general concurrently with being appointed director.
The 9th and last Corps director, Col. Mary E. Clarke, was promoted to brigadier general, Aug. 1, 1975.
PL 90-130 also removed retirement restrictions on women officers and the two percent limitation on WAC numbers – permitting WACs to be appointed in the Army National Guard and Air Guard. PL 36, 80th Congress, April 16, 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. Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, assigned to WAC Training Battalion, became the first WAC promoted to command sergeant major, the highest enlisted rank, March 30, 1968.
Army regulations permitted WAC to request waivers for retention on active duty if married and pregnant, April 9, 1971. In February 1972, enlisted women entered the drill sergeants courses at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.
Post-Vietnam and the Expansion of Women Enlistments
In August 1972, all military occupational specialties 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.
hArmy 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 on 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’s 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 more than 13,000.
Women entered the Army Reserve Officers Training Program, or ROTC, beginning in September 1972. South Dakota State University first graduated women in the college ROTC program, May 1, 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, more than 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, or LAW, the 40mm 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 May 24, 1974, Congress reduced the minimum age for enlistment of women to the same as men – age 17 with parental consent (18 without), effective April 1, 1976.
President Gerald Ford signed Public Law 94-106 that permitted women to be admitted to all service academies beginning in 1976, October 7, 1975. On Jan. 1, 1976, length of long tours in overseas areas was increased from 24 months to thirty-six months for single females, the same as tours for single males. On June 30, 1975, the defense secretary 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.
The first gender-integrated class of Military Police One-Station-Unit-Training began at Fort McClellan, July 8, 1977. 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, April 28, 1978, the Army formally dissolved the position of director of WAC. Brig. Gen. Clarke was immediately reassigned as commanding general of the U.S. Army Military Police and Chemical Corps Schools and Training Center on Fort McClellan. In September 1978, Congress passed a law that disestablished the WAC as a separate Corps of the Army effective, Oct. 20, 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 on Fort McClellan and Fort Jackson, and in October 1978 on Fort Dix and Fort Leonard Wood.
Enlistment qualifications became the same for men and women by order of the Army secretary, Oct. 1, 1979.
An act of Congress passed in October 1975 directing the Academy to accept women into its training program in 1976. In 1980, the first women cadets graduated from U.S. Military Academy, West Point, N.Y. Since then, women have continued to enter every class there.
In August 1982, the defense secretary 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.