1970s: Family Policy
||In 1945, the Moore Hospital
newsletter printed this picture of the August wedding of T/Sgt
Virginia Manzi to T/Sgt Tommy Plummer. In October, Mrs. Plummer
notified the army that she was pregnant. om the Army Medical
Services in 1979 as a lieutenant colonel.
View her honorable discharge document here).
Until the 1970s, family policies of the armed
services rested on the premise that women's responsibilities as
wives and mothers took precedence over their military careers. As
a result, women were involuntarily discharged for pregnancy and
for having minor children in the home. They were allowed to request
discharges for marriage (an option not given to male miliary personnel).
Married servicewomen did not receive the same
benefits as men such as military housing for families and their
spouses were not entitled to family medical care routinely available
to servicemen's wivesunless they could prove their husbands
and children were, infact, dependent.
As equal rights for women and passing the ERA
became a national concern, the military gradually acknowledged the
need to confront gender discrimination and establish more flexible
family policies if they were to attract and retain women. Pragmatism
defined this acknowledgement. By 1975, the percentage of women leaving
the armed services was alarming and without them, the military could
not offset manpower shortages brought on by ending the draft.
||In 1971, a change
in regulations allowed Marines who became pregnant to continue
on active duty service. Here, expectant mother GySgt Donna Murray,
Even so, most senior officers, including female
officers argued against policy changes, particularly for pregnancy
and parenthood. In 1970, WAC Director Colonel Elizabeth Hoisington
In reviewing. . .proposals on separation
regulations for women in the Army, I can only conjecture that
they are based on the notion that the Army discriminates against
women by requiring their separation when they become pregnant.
It is a fact that a woman has freedom of choice in deciding whether
or not she will become pregnant. If she elects, therefore, to
become pregnant and deliberately incapacitates herself. . ..how
has the Army discriminated against her?
In May 1975, the Department of Defense ordered
the armed forces to rescind involuntary discharge for pregnancy--although
women could still choose to resign. The services complied, but they
were not happy, even though studies showed that men lost more time
from work than women and that their absences cost the military more.
In fact, DOD studies indicated that, except for
the Air Force, enlisted men generally had a higher amount of time
lost to work than pregnant womenprimarily because of desertion,
AWOL, or alcohol and drug abuse. The services abandoned efforts
to regain the authority to discharge women for pregnancy, accepted
attendant costs in time and money, continued to debate their usefulness
to military preparedness, and dealt with complaints of preferential
treatment in job assignments for pregnant women.
A rash of legal actions challenging gender discrimination
helped to provoke change during the decade. In 1973, the Supreme
Court declared in Frontiero v. Ferguson that it was unconstitutional
to require a female member of the armed forces to prove that her
civilian spouse and unmarried minor children were dependent upon
her in order to obtain entitlements such as medical care and housing.
By 1976, in the case of Crawford v. Cushman,
the Second Circuit court held that the Marine Corps' regulation
requiring discharge of a pregnant marine as soon as pregnancy is
discovered violated the Fifth Amendment. Other suits in district
courts challenged involuntary discharge for women with minor children
in the home, involuntary discharge for pregnancy in the Navy, the
National Guard and other services.
While legal decisions and official policy expanded
equality for women within the armed forces during the 1970s, accompanying
attitudinal changes occurred more slowly. The relationship between
women's family roles and a military career remained a highly emotional
and subjective issue during subsequent eras.