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“Forcing the Resignation of Women with Minor Children Is in This Day and Age an Anachronism”: Support for Change in Army Policy

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. In the following testimony to the Senate subcommittee on S. 1492, Mrs. Anna Gordon, a Reserve officer in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service—U.S. Navy Women’s Reserve), emphasized that many mothers successfully combined motherhood and careers. She further argued that skilled, experienced women dedicated to military careers were too valuable for the nation to discard at a time of Cold War uncertainty. In the 1970s, Congress finally passed a law that allowed women with dependent children to enlist.

Statement of Mrs. Anna Gordon, East Orange, N.J.

Mrs. GORDON. Mr. Chairman and honorable members of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, I would like to state that I am appearing at no expense to the Government, because I am here as a citizen exercising the duties and privileges of citizenship, and I prefer to be introduced as Mrs. Gordon, as an observer holding a Reserve commission in the WAVES appearing before you today, which gives me an opportunity of stating my convictions not only as to what is right and fair but also as to what is in the best interest of the services.

The Reserve Officers Association of the United States is giving the fullest support to S. 1492 because the first purpose is to aid and strengthen the national security. I asked, when we were assembled in convention at Fort Monmouth, for their support, and I have been authorized to represent them as well as myself here today.

The act as it stands does not affect me personally nor would it seem likely that having minor children would ever make me ineligible to be a member of the Reserve; nevertheless, I can hardly say that I am an impartial witness because I feel strongly about the issue we are discussing.

First of all, it would seem to me that forcing the resignation of women with minor children is in this day and age an anachronism.

The choice between marriage or a career or children or a career is no longer a problem. A woman who has spent years in preparation for a career and has a living interest in what she is doing does not nowadays give it up with a sigh of resignation when she is preparing for the role of motherhood; nor does she usually give up thoughts of motherhood for a career; the modern woman finds that both are compatible, except for a temporary withdrawal from professional life-and I think we have heard how temporary sometimes that may be.

She finds that arrangements are easy to make for the routine care of her minor children. She certainly is not frightened by the possibility that Mrs. Grundy might look with disfavor at the fact that she does not conform to the old stereotyped picture of a little woman sitting around with her hands folded.

In this day and age homemaking hardly takes up all of a woman’s time and many a mother who is not forced to work because of economic pressure still does much more that a routine job even if at considerable inconvenience to herself, rather than retire. . . .

Nor does the modern woman do this at the expense of her minor child.

It would seem to me that the women who are trying here to retain their status in the Reserve are of the same caliber. Can the services afford to discard these women? They are asking for no favors, merely for the opportunity to remain available if needed. In the event of an emergency, would these women be content to stay at home and await the return of the children from school, do you suppose, when they are not even spending their days in this fashion when there is no emergency? And I hardly think that these women are not representative of others all over the country.

How many, I wonder, are now contributing to some civilian pursuit their training and experience and know-how resulting from their tour of duty with the military?

Time and again we have been warned that although it was our good fortune during the last two wars to have time on our side, we dare not assume that this will continue to be the case.

While all of us pray that our country may not be directly attacked, the realists in our midst are trying to build up adequate civilian defense. Time and time again we have been warned. Does it not then seem somewhat shortsighted not to have available this pool of trained and experienced personnel?

Now in December 1944 the Navy had 8,744 WAVE officers. The enlisted personnel at the peak strength, July of 1945, numbered 73,816.

As of June 30, 1952, the Navy could boast, if that is the proper word, of 945 WAVE officers and 7,242 enlisted women. And recruiting goes on.

Why is it so worth while to continue to try to bring in the inexperienced, the untrained, and the immature and turn away those who have already served? In the event of an all-out emergency even a small number of trained and experienced women will be of inestimable value.

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.