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Secretary of Defense James Forrestal congratulates Colonel Geraldine May, Colonel Mary A. Hallaren, Captain Joy Bright Hancock, and Major Julia E. Hamblet after passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act

Photograph by U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1948

Pictured with the defense secretary are four women who served as pioneers in the armed forces during World War II and were advocates for women’s equality in the military. They represented the first director of Women in the Air Force, the director of the Women’s Army Corps, one of the Navy’s first woman officers, and the director of the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve.

Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Photograph by U.S. Army Signal Corps, 1948

The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act

Congress gave members of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), a branch of the U.S. Army, full service status during World War II. However, the legislation that did so was set to expire in 1948. As early as 1946, Army leaders requested that enlisted women be made a permanent part of the Army. Following two years of legislative debate, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in 1948. The act granted women the right to serve as permanent, regular members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the recently formed Air Force.

[The] issue is simple—either the armed services have a permanent need of women officers and enlisted women or they do not. If they do, then women must be given permanent status.

Representative Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, Speech to the U.S. House of Representatives, April 6, 1948