A photo of President Truman and four military women in 1948, holding the Armed Forces Integration Act he signed into law.

The Significance of June 12th for Women Who Served in the Military

In recent years, June 12th has unofficially become Women Veterans Day in the United States. There is a fierce debate in the Veteran community this time each year—even among women Veterans. Should there be a separate day recognizing women who served in the military?

There are valid statements being made on both sides of the argument. Some believe that if we want true equality, we should not be honored on a separate day. But there are two important points that should not be lost in the chaos of disagreement. One is worth celebrating, and the other requires a commitment—from both women AND men—to continue striving for change.


First, June 12th is tremendously significant for women in the military. It marks the day in 1948 when President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act. (This was 173 years after America’s first military branch was established.) For the first time, women were granted permanent status as members of the Armed Forces. This meant we were allowed to do jobs beyond nursing or clerical, and not just during times of war.

But signing this act into law was no easy task. It was well summed up by the Military Women’s Memorial in their recent newsletter:

At the end of World War II, the nation optimistically and rapidly demobilized. With the advent of the Cold War, however, there was a manpower shortage in the armed services. Women could fill the gap. In 1947, military leaders asked Congress to authorize the integration of women into the officer and enlisted ranks of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. However, many congressmen did not believe women should be permanent members of the military. Some did not like the idea of women commanding men. Senator Margaret Chase Smith and Representative Edith Nourse Rogers guided the legislation through contentious congressional hearings to its ultimate passage.

The final version of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act of 1948 reflected contemporary attitudes toward women in the military. Nevertheless, the passage of the Act was a victory for women seeking careers in the armed forces and laid the foundation for future steps toward equality.

There would still be severe restrictions and clear double standards placed on our service for many decades to come. But it was a HUGE step forward for women in the military, and eventually helped changed norms for American women in general.


Secondly, despite huge advances have been made in recent decades for women to gain more equal footing in the military, there is still important work to be done. Women are the fastest growing segment in the active duty population. But we also leave in greater numbers for a variety of reasons. Those reasons often boil down to lack of support or accountability on pervasive and complex issues such as MST. Some women who served in combat sustained serious injuries from ill-fitting body armor designed for men. Unlike their male counterparts, many women still feel forced to choose between family care and service. Women often face a new set of challenges once they hang up their uniforms and join the Veteran community. It could mean receiving safe, appropriate, gender-specific care at the VA. Or it could mean even being seen by the general public as a Veteran at all. 

Hopefully a day will come where we will no longer need this distinction. But until these challenges are resolved, it is our view that Women Veterans Day is necessary and helpful. It is not meant to take away from the millions of men who also proudly served, but to bring visibility to the growing number of women in the military/veteran environment and the unique challenges we still face.  

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Photo credit: US Army.

1 thought on “The Significance of June 12th for Women Who Served in the Military”

  1. Pingback: Lady Vet — A Woman Veterans Day — Lady Vet Blog

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