According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Texas has roughly 177,500 women veterans. This is the largest number of women veterans of any state. During the 85th legislative session in Texas, State Representative Victoria Neave filed House Bill 2698 to designate June 12 each year thereafter as Women Veterans Day, a day to recognize and honor women veterans throughout the state.
Women Veterans Day will be next observed on Sunday, June 12, 2022.
The content of this bill was later attached as an amendment to Senate Bill 805, and was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott on June 9, 2017. When asked about her role in the creation of this legislation, Representative Victoria cited VA statistics as her motivation to create House Bill 2698:
“Here in our great State of Texas, we have the highest number of women veterans of any state in the country—over 177,000 women veterans live and work in our communities. Women veterans sacrificed for us and I was honored to be able to pass this legislation with the help of women veterans who traveled across the state to testify in support of the legislation so that we can honor their contributions and sacrifices.”
On June 12, 2018, Representative Neave, together with the Veterans Women’s Enterprise Center, hosted the first official Women Veterans Day in Texas. Commemorative events and ceremonies were held in Dallas, San Antonio, Houston, and Austin, as well as several other cities throughout the state. These events were designed to raise awareness of the contributions women have made during their service in the U.S. military.
However, the need for the creation and passage of this historic legislation did not begin with Representative Neave or Texas women veterans. It began with the formation of the United States.
A Brief Timeline of Women in the Military
American women have served in the military both formally and informally throughout the history of the U.S. The following is a brief summary of this history:
The Revolutionary War
At the beginning of the war, Major General Horatio Gates sent a request for a contingent of “good female Nurses” to care for sick and injured soldiers to Commander-in-Chief George Washington. General Washington, in turn, requested that the Second Continental Congress approve “a matron to supervise the nurses, bedding, etc.,” and for nurses “to attend the sick and obey the matron’s orders,” which it did.
During the war, women also served troops in Army camps in other traditionally female roles, such as cooks and seamstresses. Others, however, served in non-traditional roles. Some fought alongside their husbands, some disguised themselves as men and fought in battle, and some became spies who alerted American troops to enemy movement, transported contraband, and carried messages between camps.
After the Revolutionary War, women continued to serve Army garrisons as mess cooks, laundresses, or nurses, and some were employed by officers’ families.
The Civil War
During the war, women took on a variety of traditional and non-traditional roles. Many women managed farms and families by themselves while their husbands left to fight. In the field, women served as laundresses, cooks, clerks, and nurses.
In fact, female nurses served in both Union and Confederate Army hospitals, and many worked close to the front or on the battlefields. Roughly 6,000 female nurses, including approximately 181 African American nurses, served federal forces, convalescent homes, and government hospitals.
Other women became “Daughters of the Regiment.” These were women who bore regimental colors on marches to rally soldiers before battle. Some Daughters also participated in battle, and were part of certain units during the war.
Several women became soldiers. They cut their hair, padded their trousers, bound their breasts, and used masculine names in order to pass through recruiter’s stations. In fact, over 400 women secretly enlisted and served as male soldiers.
The Spanish-American War
At the outset of the war, typhoid fever became epidemic. As a result, the Surgeon General requested and received congressional authority for a contingent of nurses on April 28, 1898. Because of the dedication and selfless service of these nurses during conflict, the Army established the Nurses Corps as a permanent corps within its Medical Department.
This enabled nurses to be appointed to the Regular Army for three years, and to renew if they exhibited a “satisfactory record for efficiency, conduct and health.” However, no women nurses were commissioned as officers during this time.
World War One
When the U.S. government declared war on Germany in the spring of 1917, the newly-enacted Selective Service Act required the registration of all males between the ages of 20 and 30. Consequently, when roughly 16% of the male workforce went to war, women filled numerous vacancies at home. Women worked as interpreters, physicians, dentists, pathologists, administrators, secretaries, statisticians, decoders, librarians, journalists, and laboratory technicians, as well as numerous other occupations. Women also comprised over 20% of all workers for wartime manufacture of electrical machinery, airplanes, and food.
During the war, roughly 25,000 American women between 21 and 69 served overseas. Most were nurses, but others served as administrators, secretaries to telephone operators, and architects. However, while women did not receive benefits for their service, their commitment to service helped pass the 19th Amendment on June 4, 1919. This amendment granted women the right to vote.
World War Two
With America on the verge of joining the conflict in Europe, Massachusetts Representative Edith Nourse Rogers introduced legislation that formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, or WACs. This legislation was intended to grant women in the Army to receive the same protections as their male counterparts. Signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on May 14, 1942, women were granted full Army status during wartime.
At home, women filled professional roles in order “to free a man to fight.” This included work in military intelligence, cryptography, and parachute rigging. Overseas, women performed work that was critical to the war. Over 60,000 Army Nurses served around the world. Over 1,000 women flew aircraft for the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots; 140,000 women served in the U.S. Army and the Women’s Army Corps.
Progress for Women Post-WWII
Representative Roger’s WACs law was scheduled to expire on June 30, 1948. In anticipation of this, in 1946, U.S. Army leadership requested that the WACs be made a permanent part of Army personnel.
After two years of debate in Congress, on June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. This law enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and recently formed Air Force. However, it limited the number of women who could serve to 2% of the total forces in each branch. It also created organized Reserves for each branch.
The passage of this historic legislation planted the seeds that eventually grew to both remove barriers to advancement for women in the military, and to expand the roles women now have. However, a great deal more legislative and policy work was required in order for women to move closer to full inclusion and equality in the military:
- On April 16, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 80-36, the Army-Navy Nurses Act of 1947. This law established the Women’s Medical Specialist Corps and the Army Nurse Corps as part of the Army, and also provided permanent commissioned officer status to military nurses.
- On Nov. 8, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130. This law removed promotion and retirement restrictions on women officers in the armed forces, and eliminated the 2% limitation on WAC numbers. This made it possible for more than one woman in each service to hold the rank of colonel and for women to achieve general or flag officer rank, and for WACs to serve in the Army National Guard.
- In 1971, women who were not previously service members were permitted to enlist in the National Guard.
- In August 1972, Secretary of the Army Robert F. Froehlke approved both a major expansion of WAC enlistment and opened all military occupational specialties, (exclusive of combat training or duty), to women. The ban on women commanders for units that included men was lifted.
- On April 9, 1971, Army regulations were changed so women could request waivers for retention on active duty if married and pregnant.
- In 1971, the Army Chief of Staff authorized WACs’ entry into NCO academy programs and male drill sergeant schools.
- In December 1988, the Secretary of Defense issued the Standard Risk Rule to standardize services assignment of women to hostile areas.
- In December 1989, during Operation Just Cause in Panama, over 600 Army women who had been stationed in the region prior to the conflict participated in the operation. Also, Army military police commander, Captain Linda Bray was the first woman to take command of men in battle.
- In July 1994, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin rescinded the 1988 Risk Rule and issued a new “Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule.” This new rule made women eligible to be assigned to all positions for which they qualified, (exclusive of combat training or duty).
- In 2010, the Navy officially lifted its ban on women serving aboard submarines. Shortly afterward, a group of female officers began to serve aboard submarines.
- In 2013, Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta lifted the Defense Department ban on women in direct ground combat roles.
- On Dec. 3, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter directed the full integration of women in the armed forces.
- Beginning in January 2016, all military occupations and positions were opened to women, including combat. In May of that year;
- A group of enlisted female sailors boarded a submarine for the first time.
- The first female soldiers became infantry officers.
- In 2016, Air Force General Lori Robinson took command of U.S. Northern Command, and became both the first female service member to lead a unified combatant command and the highest ranking woman in U.S. military history.
- January 2017, the first female Marines graduated from infantry school.
Recognize and Celebrate Women Veterans Today
The first Women Veterans Day on June 12, 2018, marked the 70th anniversary of the groundbreaking WAC legislation signed into law by President Harry S. Truman on June 12, 1948. In order to celebrate future Women Veterans Days, the National Association of American Veterans suggests the following activities:
- Post pictures of women veterans throughout your office.
- Share pictures or stories of women veterans on social media with the hashtag #WomenVeteransDay.
- Coordinate and/or organize a trip to a local women’s veteran’s event.
- Write a tribute to a woman veteran to share with a group of women veterans.
- Host a tea, brunch or lunch for women veterans in your family, friends, or work place and let them share their stories.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News
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