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.
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.