A Brief History of Women in the U.S Military (Part 2)

By: Sierra Voorhies

Trivia Question: True or False? Army and Navy nurses, all of whom were women, weren’t given veteran’s benefits and equal rights in the military until 1947, when they were granted officer’s status. 

Answer: True

World War II (1939-1945)

In WW2, all branches of the military accepted women into their organizations. Their role expanded from clerical jobs to driving, repair persons, lab workers, operators, parachute riggers, and air combat trainers (USO). 68,000 women served as nurses across the Army Nurse Corps and the Navy Nurse Corps – sometimes working on front lines, and sometimes being killed or taken as prisoners of war. Black women served as nurses overseas and stateside, and were continuously used as auxiliary forces that were called in so men could serve on the front lines when needed. In 1948 Truman signed an Integration Act that desegregated women in the Army and the Organized Reserve Corps where Black women had been serving without official recognition. 

Interesting Fact: Aesthetically, in WW2, uniforms were skirts, and having hairdos, makeup and nail polish was emphasized, this is different from today when makeup, nail polish and skirts are not allowed (USO). 

In 1948 (Before the Korean War) Truman signed an Act that allowed ‘women to serve as full, permanent members of all branches of the Armed Forces.” (USO) Truman also issued an executive order to desegregate the military and allow Black women equal service (USO).

Vietnam War- Present
  • In the Vietnam War, women were allowed to command units that included men. 
  • Since the 80’s progress continued to be made, including women becoming fighter pilots, rescue swimmers, and four-star generals in the Army (USO).
  • In 1991 Operation Desert Storm started, and an estimated 40% of women serving were Black women (NABMW).
  • In 1994 Clinton got rid of the “Risk Rule” which let women be in any position besides direct ground combat roles (USO). 
  • In 2015 Women would be allowed to serve in direct ground combat roles, meaning almost every role in the armed forces is now open to women (USO).

In conclusion, Black women continue to face intersectional issues in the Armed Forces, but those who have served and volunteered since pre-colonialism paved the way for those who serve with full recognition and benefits now. Proportionately, Black women serve at a higher rate (in noncommissioned officers) than White women or Black Men, meaning they tend to stay in the service longer. The military can be a place of opportunity that civilian careers might not equal in the eyes of some Black women today (NABMW).

Like in every other aspect of life, the United State’s history of slavery, segregation, and racism plays an important role in the way Black women serve. But all the same, women will persist. 

Note: I would love to write a part two about the history of queer people in the military, but as this is so long, I will refrain from including it in this blog. Stay tuned!