The first time the U.S. considered drafting women — 75 years agoRoundup
tags: military history, womens history, Draft, World War 2
Pamela D. Toler is the author of "Women Warriors: An Unexpected History" and numerous other books.
The United States came one step closer to making women eligible for the draft last month when U.S. District Judge Gray Miller of Texas ruled that an all-male Selective Service registration is unconstitutional. Miller’s ruling challenged a 1981 Supreme Court decision on the subject, which held that an all-male draft was “fully justified” because women did not serve in combat positions. With women eligible for all military service roles, including combat, Miller argued that their exclusion from registration for the draft was no longer supported by the facts.
The question of female draft registration has been under discussion for several years. In 2016, Congress created a commission to study the effectiveness of the Selective Service System and whether it should be expanded to include women. The commission released an interim report in January, which suggested that the final report, due in March 2020, would recommend undefined changes.
But this isn’t the first time the U.S. government has considered drafting women. As legislative debate about drafting women in 1945 shows, if the military need is great enough, women will be drafted no matter how uncomfortable lawmakers are with the prospect.
In his State of the Union address on Jan. 6, 1945, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Congress to amend the Selective Services Act to allow conscription of nurses, who were all women. His reasoning had nothing to do with equality under the law: The U.S. Army had a desperate shortage of nurses, a result of higher-than-anticipated casualty rates in the Normandy invasion the previous June and the subsequent bloody battles in the Ardennes during World War II. The War Department estimated it needed 20,000 additional nurses to provide quality care to wounded soldiers. There were plenty of nurses in the civilian population to draw on, but the need was too great to wait for recruiting efforts to provide the necessary numbers.