By Melissa K. WifordOctober 20, 2008
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Oct. 20, 2008) -- Thirty years ago, on Oct. 20, 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-485 disbanding the Women's Army Corps as a separate corps within the United States Army following 36 years of dedicated service.
Beginning today and until mid November, the Army will be celebrating the 30th anniversary of the full integration of women into the regular Army, said Lt. Col. Mike Moose, spokesperson for the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, G-1. He said the G-1 is looking for former members of the Womens Army Corps who might like to share their stories and memories with both internal and external audiences.
Originally established as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, or WAAC by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, the WAC went through many different organizational statuses throughout its history.
Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced legislation in May 1941 to establish a women's auxiliary to the U.S. Army based on the premise that the addition of women's labor would "free a man for combat," if and when the United States entered the war.
Even though Rogers compromised on the issues of women's military status and benefits, the legislation languished in Congress until the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor in December.
In January 1942, Rogers added an amendment to her bill that would grant women the same military status and benefits as men. Bitterly contested in Congress, the bill only passed after it was decided that women would not be given military status, and on 15 May 1942 President Roosevelt signed Public Law 77-554 establishing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps.
Recognizing that the United States Army could not provide benefits to the women stationed overseas and that the auxiliary system had proved to be cumbersome, General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the Army, requested that Congress give women military status for the duration of the war.
In January 1943, Congresswoman Rogers and Oveta Culp Hobby, Director of the WAAC, drafted a bill which was endorsed by General Marshall and introduced into Congress. Even though military status was again contested in the House, the bill eventually passed, and President Roosevelt signed Public Law 78-110 on July 1, 1943, establishing the Women's Army Corps.
Even though the WAC provided the Army dedicated and loyal service in World War II, it was scheduled to disband at the end of hostilities.
No contingencies were developed to maintain the existence of the Women's Army Corps for service in the postwar Army or future conflicts. This was immediately recognized as an oversight by many senior Army leaders, to include Generals George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur, and Dwight Eisenhower, who had come to depend on the WACs assigned to their commands. General MacArthur called WACs, "my best soldiers," adding that "they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men." After many years of public debate and in response to a worsening international environment, Congress finally approved regular and reserve component status for women. On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 625, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.
During the next twenty years, the WAC followed the Army's pattern of recruitment, whereby in peacetime a small well-trained force of officers and enlisted members were maintained and during wartime a recall of reserve soldiers to active service was employed as well as increased recruitment.
These fluctuations remained the pattern until the early 1970s, when in response to President Richard Nixon's intention to reduce and eventually eliminate the drafting of men a plan was developed to expand the WAC.
The recruitment of women was seen as part of the answer to the shortages that the Army was projecting for the 1980s and 1990s in male recruitment. Many different studies -- to include the: Women's Enlisted Expansion Model, Women Officer Strength Model, Women Content in Units Force Development Test, Women in the Army Study and Evaluation of Women in the Army -- were developed and conducted by the Departments of the Army and Defense to examine whether rapid increases in women's recruitment would affect military readiness.
Eventually the findings of these different expansion studies, combined with the new expanded military occupation specialties available to women through the Combat Exclusion Policy, allowed women to further integrate into the Army.
By 1978, the DOD and Congress were fully committed to ending this last remainder of segregation within the Army. Senator William Proxmire of Wisconsin proposed an amendment to the FY 1979 Defense Procurement Authorization Bill which called for the end of the WAC. The bill was passed, and the WAC was disbanded. Since the signing of PL 95-485 by President Carter, women have been fully integrated into the Army.
See related feature article, Former WAC remembers.
(Melissa K. Wiford serves the the U.S. Amy Military History Institute. Anyone interested in sharing their experiences as a former WAC can contact Army G-1 at firstname.lastname@example.org)