It goes without saying that the contributions women made during the war transformed the country's point-of-view. While many women took on new roles, the gendered stereotypes that existed post-Great Depression had been slashed; in times when women were generally deemed less valuable than men in the workforce, the war effort reversed that. Women became the workforce between 1941 and 1945, both on the homefront and on the field. World War II required two major things: high numbers of production and high numbers of soldiers. The entrance of women into both the workforce and the military ensured both. Women were needed in war plants to produce the materials necessary for success, and women were needed in the reserves to increase the number of men entering the battlefield. Even at home, women were rationing, growing Victory Gardens, and buying war bonds. And, because of the examples set out by women during this time, women's colleges, as well as their students, were granted new aims for achievement that they couldn't have imagined for themselves before. Each of these things contributed to the United States' success at war and at home during WWII. As a result, women had become the lasting image of the country's effort during the war, an image of selflessness, hardwork, and determination.
Because of women's contributions, the United States passed a number of bills that established the value of women in both war and peacetime. Some of the more notable bills largely affected the value of nurses and military enlistees, as seen below:
The Bolton Bill
The Bolton Bill, sponsored by Ohioan Frances Bolton, enacted the United States Cadet Nurse Corps, which federally funded women who wanted to receive a nursing education. Nursing students not only had their education covered, but they had their books and uniforms covered as well, along with a monthly stipend. The personal cost that this beneficial bill had on its participants was that they were required to remain military or civilian nurses throughout the duration of the war. This bill benefited both ends of the deal: the government could increase their number of nurses in the war, and women were being offered a free education. Additionally, the Bolton Bill inspired the Red Cross, who was also enduring a shortage of volunteers, to increase their numbers; they introduced a Nurses’ Aid Program that would help educate aides on their various tasks and boost morale.
The passing of the Bolton Bill gave the nursing profession an importance it had never had in the past. The government’s willingness to acknowledge the necessity of nurses and educate young women emphasized that nursing had achieved the highest status of any occupation dominated by women. As a result, the pay for nurses rose and the education became more expansive.
Women's Armed Service Integration Act
While women were serving in the reserves capacity with WAC, WAVES, SPARS, and the Marines during war time, women were still not legally capable of enlisting in the military to achieve permanent ranking status. Once the Women's Armed Service Integration Act was proposed in January 1948, it received some push-back, with claims that women had yet to prove their worth during the peacetime after the war. High ranking civilian and military officials came to the bill’s defense, and by June 12th, 1948, the bill had passed and was signed by President Harry Truman. Nearly a month later, the Navy swore in the first six women enlistees, and by the end of the year, hundreds of women had enlisted and begun their basic training.
Despite its massive impact on the role of women in the United States, this bill still had its limitations on women, however: women with children were ineligible to serve, only a specified number of women could be enlisted to permanent status between 1948 and 1950, and women were excluded from aircraft and Navy vessels that may endure combat. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the women with children were included in the bill.
Aside from its faults, the Women's Armed Service Integration Act ensured women a more permanent role in the military, not just for when the country needed them, but even in times of peace.