the Korean War started on June 25, 1950, the number of women in
the armed forces was so small and recruitment so restricted that
the military was unable to mobilize the large number of women they
suddenly felt they needed to conduct a new war.
September, the services began involuntarily recalling veterans to
meet the demand for personnel, but as the Reserves rapidly tapped
out, the armed forces stepped up recruitment of women.
||WAC recruiting brochure from
the Korean War era
of nurses and other medical specialists was particularly acute.
The Army, Navy and Air Force combined had just under 7,500 nurses
on active duty and projected a need for over 5,000 more by mid-1952.
Each service branch began to concentrate on making military service
more appealing. All services bought advertising time on radio and
television and printed promotional literature and posters.
As concern at the Department of Defense grew
about the services' inability to meet recruiting goals for women
volunteers, the Secretary of Defense formed the Defense Advisory
Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) in 1951 to advise
on the recruiting project. DACOWITS members included former military
women, professional women from business and law, and prominent women
in the arts and politics. (DACOWITS became a permanent organization
and its changing membership continues to conduct formal studies
and make official recommendations to the military about women in
the armed forces.)
||The cover of
American magazine in the early 1950s promoted the idea that
women in the military were still models of femininity.
committee suggested an all-out, DOD-wide, national campaign to recruit
women for all services. Traveling teams of women in uniform went
throughout the country seeking recruits. Typically, local newspapers
would profile one of the recruiters so that readers could identify
with her and feel comfortable that military women were just like
"the girl next door."
services did everything they could think of internallyor everything
that was thinkable given the societal ethos of the timesto
make women more satisfied. They provided women with lighter
meals in the dining halls. They hired the best and most expensive
couturiers to design new uniforms. And when it was suggested that
servicemen did not appreciate military women, they required the
men to attend lectures that explained why servicewomen were valued
members of the armed forces.
What the military didn't do to recruit and retain
servicewomen is just as telling as what it did. On several occasions,
civilian women advisors noted the lack of career opportunity and
challenge for womensomething surveys of women leaving the
military had indicated. Others noted the many capable women
officers of stellar characterwho had been kept years at junior
rank when men of similar quality would have long been promoted.
By March of 1952, the failure of the recruitment
campaign was apparent. Despite six months of intensive outreach,
only 8,532 new servicewomen had joined the the armed forcesless
than one tenth the number hoped for.