What is the Women's Armed Services Integration Act?

Mary McMahon

The Women's Armed Services Integration Act was a landmark piece of American legislation passed in 1948 and signed by President Harry Truman. Under the Act, women were allowed to serve as regular members of the armed services in the United States for the first time. As such, they were subject to the same rules which applied to all servicemembers, and entitled to the same benefits, including veterans' benefits.

Women were first allowed to serve as regulars in the US military under the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.
Women were first allowed to serve as regulars in the US military under the Women's Armed Services Integration Act.

The history of women in the military in the United States is as old as America itself. Women fought in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, often disguising themselves as men so that they could serve as part of regular units. In the First and Second World Wars, women served in a variety of capacities, with female servicemembers typically working in the United States to free up male members of the military for service overseas.

Prior to the approval of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, most women could only serve in the military in an emergency capacity, and they were forced to serve in special segregated units designed for women only. The only women accepted into the military for regular service were nurses, who served in war and peacetime. Women who enlisted for emergency service could not serve in many of the positions open to men, and as soon as the crisis was over, they were discharged, often without benefits.

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Although the Women's Armed Services Integration Act marked a significant victory for American women who wanted to serve in the military, there were a few caveats. The total number of women in the service was capped at two percent of the total, and promotions for women were restricted to a set number each year. The Women's Armed Services Integration Act also had a clause which allowed dismissal without cause, and it restricted women from combat aircraft and ships, along with an assortment of combat positions.

As of 2006, women made up 15% of the United States military. The restrictions on promotions have been lifted, with the first female four star general being nominated in 2008, 60 years after the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act. Most positions in the military are open to women, with the exception of a handful of combat positions. Numerous men and women have lobbied for a complete lift on the ban on combat positions, arguing that women can serve every bit as effectively as their male counterparts, and that the military should pursue a goal of gender-neutrality.

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Discussion Comments


@glasshouse- War is full of atrocities. The moral and normative concerns over allowing women to serve in front-line positions are numerous. Many people think of women as somehow more delicate than men, but this is not always the case. Granted, women on average are smaller and have lower bone densities than men, but they are mentally and physically capable of handling the atrocities that come with war.

Your point about the reduced tactical effect if women serve in these roles is a moot point since the military already trains many similar emotive drivers out of their soldiers during boot camp. Adjusting the training camp regiment should solve this problem quite easily.

I know some sides argue the point that women on the front lines may be captured, tortured, and molested sexually, but the women that will serve in these roles are doing so on their own free will. These women would understand the inherent risks of serving in these dangerous positions, so that consciousness must be respected just as if it were a man in that position.

Many of the arguments against women in these close quarters combat situations are results of societal norms and beliefs that will eventually be relaxed as more men and women serve together on the front lines. I believe that women should be allowed to participate fully in any position that a man can


While I think that women would serve to be perfectly capable in a full combat role, I think it will still be a while before women serve in these positions. I think more than anything, the psychological effects of women dying would be the biggest obstacle. There have been studies done that show women serving roles in close combat infantry positions can cause reduced tactical effectiveness. The reason for this is because men in their company will actually lose control when they see a fellow female soldier wounded. It stirs up some primal, instinctual, emotional triggers that can make most men act irrationally.

Women have proven that they can serve fine in combat infantry positions, both in a limited role in the United States, and in full combat capacities in many of the developed nations. Women on the front lines will always be a controversial subject, and it is one likely to remain unchanged in the United States military.


@starrynight - I bet your boyfriend is a relatively young guy. From what I gather, a lot of younger people feel like it would be OK for women to serve in combat and a lot of the older folks disagree.

I really think it's a disgrace that women in the past were allowed to serve in some capacity and then discharged without benefits. If any of those ladies are still alive the government should extend military benefits to them.


My boyfriend served in the Army Reserves for 8 years. There were women in his unit and he told me they were every bit as tough as the guys were. He firmly believes that there is no reason women shouldn't be allowed to do everything there is to do in the military, just like the men are.

I agree with him. While I personally don't care to join the military, if a woman wants to serve her country in the military she should be able to. I think it would be a big step towards greater gender equality in this country to lift the ban on women in combat.

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