Women's Roles in the Military
Before World War I, women assisted the military during wartime mainly as nurses and helpers. Some women, however, did become involved in battles. Molly Pitcher, a Revolutionary War water carrier, singlehandedly kept a cannon in action after a artillery crew had been disabled. During the
Revolutionary and the Civil War, a few women disguised themselves as men and took part in hand-to-hand combat. The first enlisted women served in World War I as telephone and radio operators, translators, and clerks. But it was not until World War II that women became part of the regular military. Each service had its own women's corps commanded by female officers. The first of these units, the Women's Army Corps (WACs), enlisted 400,000 women during the war to work in jobs that freed men to fight. Following the war, the Women's Services Integration Act of 1948 established a permanent place for women in
all branches of the military. But promotions for female officers were limited, and women were banned from ground combat jobs as well as from most Navy ships and Air Force aircraft. By the mid-1960s, about 70 percent of enlisted women worked in clerical and other office jobs. The Army and the other services at first resisted sending women to Vietnam fearing that they would notbe able to handle the stress of being in a war zone. But 7,500 military women, mainly nurses, eventually served in Vietnam. Several died in hostile action. When the all-volunteer military replaced the draft in 1973, the armed forces accelerated its recruitment of women. In 1977, a Department of Defense report clearly identified both the limitations and potential of
female recruits at that time. *The average woman available to be recruited is smaller, weighs less, and is physically weaker than the vast majority of male recruits. She is also much brighter, better educated(a high school graduate), scores higher on the aptitude tests and is much less likely to become a disciplinary problem*. As the military modernized and weapons grew more sophisticated, education and technical skills became important. This development opened up more military jobs for women, including some combat-related jobs. For example, women became Army transport helicopter pilots and were assigned to nuclear missile sites. The rapid increase in military technology as well as changes in the whole concept of modern warfare blurred
the old line separating combat from non-combat jobs. When larger numbers of women entered the military in the 1970s, pressure mounted for more female officers. Consequently, college ROTC programs and officer candidate schools became co-ed. In 1976, the first female cadets entered West Point and the other service academies. Soon, female officers began commanding men,
a concept that had been ridiculed as unworkable only a short time earlier. During the Gulf War in 1991, about 40,000 women served in the combat zone. This was the largest such female deployment in U.S....