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“A Mother’s Duty to Her Children”: No Women with Dependent Children in the Armed Forces Reserves

The issue of protective legislation for women and mothers has divided reformers, labor unionists, legislators, courts, the military, and feminists since the end of the 19th century when a number of states passed statutes to limit women’s work hours. At issue—equal treatment versus biological difference. During the Cold War era, this question informed the debate on the role of women in the military. Although the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 established a permanent presence for women in all branches of the armed forces, a new Army regulation in October 1949 required the discharge of female servicewomen with children under the age of 18. To guarantee passage of the Armed Forces Reserve Act of 1952, during the Korean War, a provision was dropped that would have reversed this regulation. Thus mothers of dependent children were ineligible to enlist in reserve units and were discharged after childbirth or adoption. In the following Congressional session, the Senate passed S. 1492, allowing the reinstatement of women with dependent children. The bill, however, died in the House Committee on Armed Services and failed to become law. The following testimony of Women’s Army Corps Director Colonel Irene O. Galloway, to the Senate subcommittee on S. 1492, presented the Department of Defense position opposing the bill. Galloway argued that in the event of an emergency mobilization, such women could not and should not be counted on to leave their duties as mothers to join activated units. In the 1970s, Congress finally passed a law that allowed women with dependent children to enlist.

Statement of Col. Irene O. Galloway, Director, Women’s Army Corps

Colonel GALLOWAY. Thank you, Mr. Chairman and members of the committee.

I am Colonel Galloway, Director of the Women’s Army Corps. It is my privilege to represent the Department of Defense before your committee. I shall read my opening statement, copies of which I have distributed to all of you as I thought perhaps you would like to follow as I read.

I should like to express the position of the Department of Defense concerning the proposed legislation, Senate bill 1492, which provides that the Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force shall establish adequate provisions with respect to female Reserve and former Reserve officers and enlisted women, to insure that such personnel shall not be declared ineligible for appointment or enlistment in the Reserve solely on the basis of having minor or dependent children, and that such personnel shall not be discharged involuntarily from the Reserve solely because of the birth or assumption of care or custody of such children.

It is felt that the proposed legislation would not serve the best interests of the Nation. The purpose of the Reserve is to provide the Armed Forces with well-trained, quickly available, mobile manpower and womanpower in the event of mobilization. Inevitably, this purpose would in most cases, collide with the paramount responsibilities of mothers to their children. This Nation would not and should not tolerate the ordering of women from their homes with no adequate arrangements for the care of their children. Many women would find it impossible or ill advised to make such arrangements. Their military training would be lost to the Nation at the moment most needed; Reserve units to which they belonged would be disrupted.

The question then arises, if mobilization occurs, can these mothers be assigned to military service in their own communities, live at home, and supervise their children during offduty hours? For some women, who happen to dwell in communities where a military need for their specialties exists, this arrangement might be possible, although it is obvious that the usual rule of availability for duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, could not be applied to them. Many women, however, would not be so conveniently located; they could not be used at all. Their training would be wasted.

We are all concerned with the necessity of getting the most from every dollar spent for defense. Money for Reserve training is limited. I do not see how we can possibly justify investing any portion of it in the training of personnel whom we cannot be reasonably sure of placing on active duty in mobilization. If M-day comes, the expansion of the Armed Forces will give ample opportunity to recruit those women whose children have grown and whose circumstances permit then to offer their full time and energy to the Armed Forces. I feel that it will be much more economical and effective to give refresher training then to women we are sure we have than to train a large number of reservists, many of whom will not be able to serve when needed.

We must consider whether, by excluding women with minor children from the Reserve, we are denying them the citizens' right to serve their Nation. I feel certain that we are not. The nurture of their children is their first and greatest contribution to the national welfare. In addition, every community offers opportunities for public service through the Red Cross and other organizations which can utilize such time as the mother can spare from her home without detriment to her children.

In sum, it is the view of the Department of Defense that a mother’s duty to her children takes precedence over any other responsibility, hence that the Armed Forces could not count on her services in mobilization and should not invest in her training as a reservist. It is therefore respectively recommended that Senate bill 1492 not be enacted into law. . . .

Source: Appointment or Retention of Certain Female Reserve Personnel with Minor Children, Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate, 83rd Congress, 1st Session, on S. 1492, May 14 and 15, 1953. Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1953.