Great Strides Forward: Women in the Army, 1966-Present

BG Mildred C. Bailey, Director WAC 1971-1975. Photo courtesy of USAHEC, Women in the Service Photograph Collection.

The first WAC officer was assigned to Vietnam in March 1962, but it was not until 1965 that the Army decided that WAC personnel could feasibly serve in support elements and make positive contributions on a wide scale, particularly in clerical, secretarial, and administrative jobs.

A WAC detachment of enlisted women was assigned to Headquarters, USARV, first at Ton Son Nhut Airbase in 1966, and then at the headquarters in Long Binh, from 1967 to October 1972.  While engineers readied new barracks at Long Binh, the women lived in a building typical of the tropics, with openings between outer wallboards and no windows.  Red dust covered their rooms during the dry season, and rain soaked them during the wet season.  The official uniform at that time was the green cord; however, most WACs chose to wear fatigues because of the living conditions.  WACs continued to serve in Vietnam until the withdrawal of troops in 1973.

Until President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, on Nov. 8, 1967, military regulations limited each service to only one woman with the rank of colonel and prohibited women from holding the rank of general (or admiral in the Navy).

The new law cleared the way for promotions, and on June 11, 1970, Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington, the 7th Director of the WAC, became the first WAC promoted to the rank of general.  On that same day, Brigadier General Anna Mae Hays, Chief Army Nurse Corps, became the first Army Nurse and the first woman to achieve the rank of general.  A year later, when Brig. Gen. Hoisington retired, her successor as Director, WAC, Col. Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey, was promoted to brigadier general concurrently with being appointed Director, WAC.  The 9th and last Director of the Corps, Col. Mary E. Clarke, was promoted to brigadier general on Aug. 1, 1975.

PL 90-130 also removed retirement restrictions on women officers and the 2 percent limitation on WAC numbers and permitted WACs to be appointed in the Army National Guard and Air Guard. PL 36, 80th Congress, April 16, 1947, allowed women into the National Guard’s Medical Department.

The Vietnam era also marked other changes and the beginning of two other advancements for women.  On March 30, 1968, Sgt. Maj. Yzetta L. Nelson, assigned to WAC Training Battalion, became the first WAC promoted to command sergeant major, the highest rank for enlisted Soldiers.

On April 9, 1971, Army regulations changed to permit WACs to remain in active duty if they became pregnant provided they were married and filed a request.  In February 1972, the first women attended the Drill Sergeants Courses at Fort Jackson, S.C. In August 1972, all military occupational specialties (MOS) opened to WAC officers and enlisted women except those that might require combat training or duty.


ROTC Cadets taking an Army physical fitness test, July 1975. Photo courtesy of USAHEC, Women in the Service Photograph Collection.

The advent of the All-Volunteer Force in 1973 made a large difference in the number of women coming into the Army. As a result of recruitment and greater opportunities, the total number of WACs in the Army increased from 12,260 in 1972 to 52,900 in 1978.  Female Soldiers had been allowed to rig parachutes during World War II, but were prohibited from participation in parachute jumps. In 1950, a Parachute Rigger Course was added to the Quartermaster School curriculum at Fort Lee, VA. Initially closed to female soldiers since they were not “jump-qualified”, the course was opened to women in 1972 when 43E was added to the list of available MOS for WACs.  Within months, female graduates of the Parachute Rigger Course were jumping with their own chutes in Airborne units around the world.

The move to the All-Volunteer Force led the Army to begin recruiting women aggressively for the Reserve components.  As with the active force, recruiting, training, and opportunities improved for women, and by the end of September 1978, the Army Reserve had approximately 25,000 WACs and the Army National Guard had over 13,000.

Women entered the Army Reserve Officers Training Program (ROTC) beginning in September 1972. The first female ROTC cadets graduated from South Dakota State University on May 1, 1976. By May 1981, approximately 40,000 women were enrolled in college and university ROTC units throughout the U.S.  During the same time period, young women (age 14) were allowed to join Junior ROTC, and by May 1981, over 32,000 were enrolled.

Weapons training for women became mandatory in June 1975, beginning with basic rifle marksmanship with the Ml6. Female Soldiers received the same training as men.  In 1976, the weapons training program was expanded to include additional small arms weapons, the light antitank weapon (LAW), the 40mm grenade launcher, the Claymore mine, and the M60 machine gun.  By 1977, combined basic training for men and women became policy after a test conducted at Fort Jackson the year before.

Vietnam, elimination of the draft, and the rise of the feminist movement all contributed to changes for Women’s Army Corps and led to more calls for equality and increased opportunities for women in uniform.


Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington, the 7th Director of the WAC, at her promotion ceremony with General William Westmoreland, June 11, 1970. Photo Courtesy of the U.S. Army Office of Medical History.

On October 7, 1975, President Ford signed Public Law 94-106 to allow women to attend all service academies beginning in 1976. In 1975, the Secretary of Defense eliminated the policy of involuntarily discharging female Soldiers for becoming pregnant.  In 1976, the lengths of overseas tours for men and women were equalized.  Also effective in 1976, Congress reduced the minimum age for enlistment of women to the same as men – age 17 with parental consent (18 without).

Time also brought changes in the WAC uniform. By the mid-seventies, the mint green uniform replaced the green cord and the Army began to issue a dark green pantsuit.  Enlisted women came to receive the same issue of four sets of fatigues and two pair of field boots as men.

Congress passed directed the United States Military Academy to accept women starting in 1976. The first women cadets graduated from the West Point in 1980.  Since then, women have continued to enter every class at the United States Military Academy.

On July 8, 1977, the first gender-integrated class of Military Police began training at Fort McClellan.  In September 1977, WACs participated for the first time in the NATO REFORGER Exercise in Germany – something Army Nurses had done since 1971.  The need for a separate Women’s Army Corps faded as women assimilated into male training, assignments, and logistics and administrative management.

In a ceremony at the Pentagon on April 28, 1978, the Army formally dissolved the position of Director, WAC.  Brig. Gen. Clarke was immediately reassigned as Commanding General of the U.S. Army Military Police and Chemical Corps Schools and Training Center, Fort McClellan. Congress passed a law in September 1978 that disestablished the WAC as a separate Corps of the Army effective Oct. 20, 1978. On October 1, 1979, the Secretary of the Army ordered that men and women would have to meet the same qualifications for enlistment.  The Women’s Army Corps had served the purpose of allowing women to serve honorably while the national struggled to accept what many in the Army already knew:  that women are just as capable as men when it comes to answering the call to duty.

Article adapted from: “WAAC/WAC.”  http://www.army.mil/women


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