75 Years of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act – June 2023
June 2023 Newsletter
June 7, 2023 – The 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, PL 625, was a major milestone in the history of women’s service to the nation. For the first time, women, other than nurses, would have a permanent place in America’s military. Prior to this, women were essentially “temporary help” during the crisis, then sent home when the trouble was over – no longer needed.
Starting this past January and during the run-up to June 12, the 75th anniversary of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, we are addressing the various provisions of the legislation that impacted the nature of women’s service for nearly seven decades. To date, we’ve addressed the need for the legislation and its positive impact on national defense; the hard-fought battle over Regular status for women; the permanent establishment of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) as a separate branch of the Army; and the Service Secretaries’ authority to define women’s command capacities, terminate commissions and enlistments, and prescribe the kind of duties military women could be assigned and perform. This provision had the added caveat that in the case of the Air Force and Navy, women “may not be assigned to duty in aircraft while such aircraft are engaged in combat missions” and Navy, women “may not be assigned to duty on vessels of the Navy except hospital ships and naval transports.” The services took this provision a step further and prohibited women from serving aboard any aircraft or vessel except medical aircraft and hospital ships.
Two other provisions of the legislation that would impact women’s service until the late 1960s were the 2 per cent ceiling on the proportion of women in each service and the grade ceiling cap of 0-5. If a woman served as the chief of a women’s component, she was temporarily promoted to 0-6 and permitted to retire at that grade. However, if she remained on active duty, she would return to the next lower grade. Another provision established separate promotion lists for women, with the exception of Air Force women who were integrated into the male promotion lists.
The legislation also imposed age restrictions for women. Unlike the age criteria for men, however, PL 625 ruled the minimum enlistment age for women would be set and 18, with parental consent required for women under age 21 (minimum age for men was 17, with parental consent).
But particularly galling for women was the provision about dependents. Under PL 625, women could claim husbands and/or children as dependents only if it could be proven that they we in fact dependent for their chief support (more than 50%). In addition, because of this requirement, she was likely prohibited from receiving on post housing, or a quarters allowance. In addition, although the law permitted her to claim dependent children if she was the chief support, the services would not accept women with children nor permit them to remain on active duty if they acquired children, by birth, adoption, marriage, or other circumstances.
In the end, as we look back to the birth of the nation to today’s modern military, women have stepped forward whenever the country needed them – ever ready to serve, even when service meant sacrifice, assignments and promotions were limited, benefits were unequal, those with whom they served didn’t want them – and even when they couldn’t vote. In the face of it all – women just wanted to serve.
Despite what seems today as outrageous restrictions, the 1948 Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, PL 625, was a gamechanger for military women. For the first time, regardless of the restrictions, women could have a career in the United State military. The law was a crack in the glass ceiling that overtime would be chipped away and finally blown wide open.