On October 7, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94-106 ( 89 Stat. 531) allowing women to be admitted to the all-male military colleges, and on July 7, 1976, 119 women made history becoming the first females join the Corps of Cadets at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Sixty-two of those women later graduated in 1980, becoming second lieutenants in the Army.
Some Historical Highlights
- Prior to WWII, women could only enlist as volunteers in clerical or nursing positions in the military. Eleanor Roosevelt began advocating for women to have a greater role in the military.
- In May of 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was founded as the women’s branch of the U.S. Army and in 1943 converted to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) with active duty status in the U.S. Army.
- In 1946, Army leaders began requesting that enlisted women be made a permanent part of the Army.
- Congress had given members of the WAC full service status during WWII, but that legislation was about to expire in 1948.
- On June 12, 1948, after legislative debates, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. This act granted women the right to serve as permanent and regular members in all four branches of the military in a number of official capacities. The act, while promising more opportunities for women, put a limit on the number of women who could serve in each branch, making their overall presence limited. This act also allowed African American women to officially serve in the military. Annie Graham became the first African American women to join the Marine Corps in 1949.
- In 1951, the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services was established with the purpose of seeking fair and equal treatment for women in the Armed Forces.
- On June 15, 1956, 70 Stat. 285 amended title II of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 and provided flexibility in the distribution of women officers in the grades of commander and lieutenant commander, and for other purposes.
- On April 28, 1993, combat exclusion was lifted from aviation positions permitting women to serve in almost any aviation capacity, with restrictions maintained on aviation units in direct support of ground units and special operations aviation units.
- In 1994, Secretary of Defense Aspin officially rescinded the "risk rule" in a memo, titled "Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule."
- Under the leadership of Secretary of Defense Panetta, and following a unanimous recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, The Combat Exclusion Policy was lifted as of January 24, 2013.
- Read the House Hearing, 113th Congress - [H.A.S.C. No. 113-50] Women in Service Reviews, July 24, 2013. The goal was to focus on the implementation plans that the military services and the United States Special Operations Command have developed to expand the assigned opportunities for women.
Article Sources and Additional Resources
- West Point website
- Search govinfo for remarks in the Congressional Record honoring women veterans.
- Visit the Women's Memorial website to find out how you can visit the Military Women’s Memorial at the Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National cemetery in Arlington, VA, or explore the “Color of Freedom” Virtual Exhibit to learn about some of the many women of color who continue to pave the way for equality.
- Women in the U.S. Military
- Read "The First Women of West Point" article of the women graduates ' stories and how the women of the Class of 1980 paved the way for them.
- Read "A Historical Review of the Influence of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, 1951 to present: A 70 Year Review," Secretary of Defense Federal Advisory Committee
- Explore the Library of Congress Veterans History Project, Experiencing War, Women of Four Wars, and find out how you can participate in the Project.