Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Women Soldiers, Wives of Servicemen: How the Women's Movement Transformed the Landscape of Military Service in America during the 1970s
Abstract: The landscape of American society?and the military's role in its construction? underwent dramatic changes in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly regarding the meaning of military service for Americans, the role of women in society, and the contours of citizenship as a negotiated set of rights, benefits, and obligations. Just as in the civilian workforce, more women began serving in the military, and this fundamentally altered the landscape of what were once exclusively masculine spaces. As they sought access to full citizenship and all of the rights, benefits, and the social prestige that participation in the public sphere promised, the military crafted policies to adapt, categories of "veteran" and "soldier" grew to include women, all while recasting what it meant to be a man or a woman in America.

This panel investigates how the military, veteran's groups, Congress, feminist organizations, military families, and servicemembers made sense of this shifting landscape, and our panel contributes to the field of war, society, and veteran's studies within the broader field of military history. Margaret Montgomery's paper explores how the Women's Army Corps (WAC) navigated the landscape of sexuality, respectability, and women's service at a time when sexual and gender roles in the broader society were rapidly changing. Sarah Myers looks at how WASPs who served in World War II saw the movement for women's equality as an opportunity to demand veterans benefits that for decades had been denied to them because of their gender. And John Worsencroft's paper explores how feminist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and the Women's Equity Action League (WEAL) began to see the military as a crucial site for achieving women's equality, both for wives of servicemen who needed jobs to support their families, and for women in uniform who desired fuller participation in the military.
John Worsencroft, Louisiana Tech University
Participant's Paper Title: Working Women, Feminism, and the Military in the All-Volunteer Era
Participant's Paper Abstract: As American society underwent sweeping social and cultural changes in the 1970s? to gender roles, to the status of the breadwinner, and to the shape of the American family? the military struggled to find stability while it underwent a revolution of its own with the end of the draft. Women's rights advocates in the great second wave of American feminism began to see the military as a crucial site for achieving equality for the sexes. The military of 1970 and the military of 1979 were fundamentally different institutions, and not only because the draft ended in 1973. As working women fought to carve out space in the public sphere, they transformed all-male institutions like the military. At the beginning of the decade, barely 1% of the armed forces were women; by 1979, that percentage was 7.6. A more dramatic shift occurred in military households: for those women who were wives of servicemen, nearly seventy percent were homemakers in 1970; by the end of the decade, fully half of all wives worked outside the home?surpassing civilian women. American women entered the workforce for many reasons, not least of which was the declining power of the male breadwinner to provide a family wage. And as they entered these gendered spaces, they changed the American legal system, public institutions, and the work place? even notions of what was possible for men and women in Americans' imaginations. Military policymakers struggled to keep pace with these rapid changes. Policymakers clung to the idea of the traditional family, with a wife at home dutifully maintaining the household, volunteering in the base community, all while the man did the work of defending the nation. As the decade wore on, the family became the number one concern of military commanders, their civilian leaders, and lawmakers in Washington.
Sarah Myers, Saint Francis University
Participant's Paper Title: Feminism and Flight: Female World War II Pilots' Perceptions of Equality and Veterans Status
Participant's Paper Abstract: Female pilots in the Army Air Force were the only women's military unit that did not receive militarization during World War II, due to a 1944 Congressional decision to reject a bill for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). This status would have given the WASP military benefits, including access to medical care, military funerals, and education under the GI Bill of Rights. Instead, the program disbanded before the war's conclusion and the military excluded women from flying aircraft until the 1970s. Although considered officially civilians, the WASP launched a campaign in era of Vietnam and Women's Liberation to earn veterans status. For these female pilots, the fight for military benefits and recognition as veterans brought them closer to full citizenship, although they continue to shape the public narrative of the female veteran even today.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the WASP fought for a bill that would grant them veterans status during the midst of second wave feminism. Although many female pilots argued that they were not associated with the women's liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s, their struggle for militarization occurred within this context and many of the WASP utilized the discourse of the movement. It also coincided with the service academies admitting the first female cadets and the Air Force again admitting women into training as pilots. Media coverage of the bill and these historical military moments incorporated language from second wave feminism. This paper examines these tensions between feminism and claims to veterans status. In the case of the WASP, demands for equality and their perceptions of themselves as veterans paralleled the demands of the feminist movement. Furthermore, they connect with the larger history of early female aviators who saw the sky as a place of social equality and freedom from the constraints of society.
Margaret Montgomery, University of Alabama
Participant's Paper Title: Mind Your Military Manners: How the WAC Crafted Conservative Femininity in the Midst of Second Wave Feminism
Participant's Paper Abstract: From its inception, the Women's Army Corps faced challenges from an American public apprehensive about enlistees' motivations for joining. The American public associated servicewomen with dangerous sexualities, including promiscuous heterosexuality and homosexuality. Male soldiers assumed the same; during World War II, Army cartoonists portrayed Wacs as either mannish or sexually available. In the 1960s and 1970s, Army political cartoons portrayed Wacs as buxom temptresses, there for the pleasure of male soldiers. This paper examines the ways the WAC countered these associations by training young enlistees to be conventionally feminine. Starting in 1970, the Women's Army Corps required enlistees to watch a series of films called "Military Etiquette and Grooming." These films educated enlistees about hygienic habits, clothing choices, table manners, and feminine comportment. "Mind Your Military Manners," the second film in the series, served as a cautionary tale for enlistees: they were to be neither overly sexual nor masculine. The film featured three examples of Wac comportment: a Wac who flaunted her heterosexuality, a Wac whose comportment was masculine, and a Wac who was perfectly feminine and thus the ideal Wac. This paper explores how in an effort to create soldiers who were first and foremost conventionally feminine, "Mind Your Military Manners" taught Wacs the proper way to walk, dress, talk, and address superiors. This paper shows that by doing so in a time before Congress passed the ERA but after the Feminine Mystique, the WAC, although providing a space for some American women to push the boundary of acceptable behavior, was a conservative organization. Thus, it molded young women into soldiers whose comportment and behavior more aligned with the postwar visions of femininity rather than burgeoning second-wave feminism.
Stephen Ortiz, Binghamton University

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