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1970s

In 1972, two policy issues intertwined to advance women's position in the US Armed Forces: the decision to end the draft and to rely on an all-volunteer military force (AVF) and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution. These policy and legislative moves focused attention on the issue of women's equality in the armed services, and throughout the decade, barriers to women's full integration into military life began to fall.

With the decision to end the draft and depend on an all-volunteer force, the Department of Defense recognized—perhaps for the first time in the history of women in the US military—the necessity in peacetime to rely on increased numbers of military women to meet personnel needs. And as Congress debated and passed the ERA, public dialog focused on equal rights for women. The Department of Defense took a new look at problems of sex discrimination in the military.

Personnel policies and opportunities for career development were revised across the services. The military gradually forced more balanced representation of women out of saturated traditional fields to representation in all occupations. Legal ceilings on women's promotions were repealed and the first women were advanced to brigadier general and admiral ranks. ROTC programs became coeducational. Nontraditional job opportunities expanded for women in all services and Navy and Coast Guard ships sailed with male/female crews.

  Read a 1977 letter from the Department of the Army informing a new recruit about weapons training, but explaining that such training was to give her confidence, but not to preprare her for combat duty.  

Weapons training became mandatory. The Army and the Navy opened pilot training to women in 1972 and six Navy women won their wings and the designations as Naval aviators in 1973. The Air Force followed in 1976. By 1978, the Air Force began training women to serve on Titan missile launch crews and the numbers of women increased in the Reserves and National Guard. Women were admitted to the service academies and male and female recruits shared some coeducational training.

Social equality, too, moved to the forefront during the decade. In 1973, the Supreme Court upheld the entitlement of civilian male spouses of servicewomen to the same benefits as servicemen's civilian wives in Frontiero v. Ferguson. In 1974, women were no longer involuntarily discharged for pregnancy and parenthood, although the debates about family policy did not lessen.

  Airman 1st Class discusses procedures for using tape drive machine at the Pentagon, 1970s.  

Increasing opportunities and utilization of servicewomen was not a smooth process. Behind each door that opened lay months of discussion, study and argument among policymakers and military leaders about the value and effectiveness of women to the mission of the armed forces. However, according to a report issued by the independent policy-research think tank, The Brookings Institution in 1976,

The tradeoff in today's recruiting market is between a high quality female and a low quality male. 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 much higher on the aptitude tests and is much less likely to become a disciplinary problem.

Women in the US Military - 1970s