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  Chapter Eleven:

  Government Spending
  Government Employees
  Federal Entitlements
  Federal Judiciary
  Military Personnel
  Blacks in the Military
  Women in the Military
  War Deaths
  Patriotic Attitudes



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Women in the Military

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The proportion of women in the armed forces rose rapidly in the last third of the century.
In the Civil War, as in earlier wars, a few women disguised themselves as men and joined combat units; soldiers’ wives and other women accompanied campaigning armies, and many women on both sides nursed the wounded. But military rank and status continued to be male prerogatives. The Army Nurse Corps, founded in 1901, was the first official female military organization, but its members were technically civilians. 

In World War I, the Navy and the Marine Corps authorized female enlistments for yeoman, radio operator, and other support positions, and more than 10,000 Army nurses served overseas. In 1920, in recognition of their wartime services, the nurses were granted “relative rank,” from second lieutenant through major, and were permitted to wear military uniforms and insignia. 

The Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was established in 1942 as a quasi-military organization, without formal enlistment or military benefits. But a year later, it was incorporated into the Army as the Women’s Army Corps. The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard soon followed suit. By 1945, 265,000 women were in uniform, all of them volunteers. 

The separate status of women in the armed forces continued until the early 1970s, when the anticipated passage of the Equal Rights Amendment and a series of federal court decisions on gender discrimination persuaded the armed services to abolish their female branches by separate and piecemeal measures. Women were put on the same footing as men with respect to training, rank, pay, and promotion. As the chart indicates, between 1975 and 1998, the female share of officers and enlisted personnel tripled to about 14 percent of the armed services. By the end of the century, women were allowed to serve in some front-line positions and on combat ships. As integration proceeded, little notice was taken when women sometimes commanded men in U.S. military operations.

Chapter 11 chart 7

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series Y 906 and Y 907; SA 1959, table 313; SA 1979, table 605; SA 1987, table 545; and WA 1998, page 150. See also the Department of Defense’s Military Personnel Statistics web site at (accessed August 31, 2000). See also Jeanne Holm, Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, rev. ed. (Novato, Calif.: Presidio, 1992).


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