Women have always helped the U.S. military. They have served as soldiers, sergeants, and spies. Women have been cooks, commanders, and captains too. For many years, however, women could not be full members of America’s military. That changed on June 12, 1948. On that day, President Harry Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act.
This important law let women get jobs in the U.S. military. That included all branches of the armed forces. They could be full members during wartime or when the nation was at peace. And women didn’t just get the chance for equal service. They also were promised equal pay. The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act is now 75 years old.
Women supported the U.S. military going back to the birth of the country. They helped in the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. Some did that by cooking, cleaning, or caretaking. Others took more bold actions. For example, Deborah Sampson dressed like a man so she could fight for . Margaret Corbin worked a cannon after her husband was killed.
Women later took on greater roles in America’s military. Starting in 1941, nearly 350,000 women served during World War II. Many worked in the Women’s Army Corps (WACS). Some served in the Women Air Service Pilots (WASP). But when the war ended in 1945, women — other than nurses — could not keep their jobs.
A congresswoman named Margaret Chase Smith spoke out about this unfairness. “The issue is simple,” she told Congress on April 6, 1948. “Either the armed services have a permanent need of women, or they do not,” said Smith. “If they do, then women must be given permanent status.”
The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act changed that. However, it was not perfect. Women were not allowed to fight in combat. And the U.S. military would only accept one woman for every 49 men. Still, the law created great change. Later laws let more women join the military — and fight. Today, one of every six members of America’s military is a woman.
“The passing of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act helped to break down barriers,” said Laura June Davis. She teaches American history. Davis told News-O-Matic that the law “proved that women can also be warriors.”
Updated June 9, 2023, 5:02 P.M. (ET)
By Russell Kahn (Russ)