From Prohibition to Acceptance: Motherhood in the U.S. Military, 1948-1992




Reichman, Elizabeth

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The Women's Armed Forces Integration Act of 1948 allowed women to serve in the post World War II military but also imposed upon them a vague, gender-specific provision: "(t)he Secretary of War, under such regulations as he may prescribe, may terminate the enlistment of any enlisted woman." (Emphasis added.) The law itself offered no interpretation of the broad, discretionary language, but the legislative history revealed this section was intended to prohibit pregnant women from serving. In 1951, President Harry Truman issued Executive Order 10240, which extended the ban to mothers of minor children, whether by birth or by adoption. For approximately twenty years, between 1948 and the late 1960s, mothers could not be soldiers. Beginning in the late 1960s, servicewomen fought back against the prohibition, first by using legal lacuna and loopholes, later by directly challenging the rule in court. Today, the modern, all volunteer military, increasingly reliant on women, strategizes how to retain women warriors when they become mothers, offering a twelve-week maternity leave, lactation rooms, and maternity flight suits. By examining legal and societal changes as well as by listening to the voices of mothers in the military, this thesis will trace the evolution of mothers in the military from 1948 to 2023.


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army, maternity, military, motherhood, pregnancy