WAC platoon preparing for graduation from basic training at
Fort McClellan, Alabama.
in the Army Nurse Corps take a break during field training.
During the 1960s, the clash between traditional
views of women's roles and social movement for equal opportunity
for women resonated throughout the military. As the decade began,
servicewomen's position stood in sharp contrast to the ideas of
the growing feminist movement.
The Cuban missile crisis, construction of the
Berlin Wall, the continuing Cold War and escalating involvement
in Southeast Asia drove efforts to build up American military strength.
The country relied on the Selective Service System to draft sufficient
numbers of young men, but the armed services maintained that women
volunteers needed to be smarter and more qualified than these men
in order to perform the jobs open to them. And they needed to be
||Members of the
Officer's Training School at Lackland Air Force Base, 1960.
Military recruiting brochures targeting women
promised challenging jobs with unlimited opportunities.
But in fact, most truly challenging technical jobs were closed to
women, and those already trained and experienced in technical skills
such as engine repair, equipment maintenance, intelligence, weather
and radio operations were retrained for jobs the military considered
In the Army, WACs no longer underwent bivouac
training or weapons famliarization. WAF recruits were told how to
apply lipstick correctly and Women Marines were told their lipstick
and nail polish had to match the scarlet braid on their uniform
hats. Even in Vietnam under combat conditions, women were told to
dress in skirts and pumps rather than boots and field clothing in
order to project a neat and feminine image. Their careers were further
limited because women were allowed few promotion opportunities and
none could serve as admirals or generals.
Directors for women within the services generally
supported narrow roles for servicewomen and they simply did not
want to generate controversy that would jeopardize women's already-marginal
position in the armed forces. The directors sought acceptance for
women in the military, not equality.
||President Johnson signs Public
Law 90-130 which opened advanced military rank to women and
lifting ceilings on the numbers of women in the military, November
But the national concern for civil rights and
gender equityincluding equal opportunity for wages and promotionsbegan
to impact the armed forces. In 1967, after years of debate within
the military and pressure from various military advisory groups,
Congress voted to allow women's promotions to higher service grades,
including general and admiral, and removed the two percent ceiling
on women's military strength; yet few women felt immediate effects
of the legislation.
Despite advocating the bill,, the Armed Services
Committee of the US House of Representatives stated,
...there cannot be complete equality between
men and women in the matter of military careers. The stern demands
of combat, sea duty, and other types of assignments directly related
to combat are not placed upon women in our society. The Defense
Department assured the committee that there would be no attempt
to remove restrictions on the kind of military duties women will
be expected to perform. ...It is recognized that a male officer
in arriving at the point where he may be considered for general
and flag rank passes through a crucible to which the woman officer
is not subjectedsuch as combat, long tours at sea, and other
dangers and isolations.