In 1948, President Harry Truman signed the Womenâ€™s Armed Services Act, allowing women to serve as permanent members in the military — but only under certain conditions. It used to be that women werenâ€™t allowed to serve in combat or command men. Also, only two percent of each service could be comprised of women and they would never become generals. This was partly due to the common misperception that by the time women could be considered for an admiral or general officer they would be going through menopause and would therefore make â€œirrational decisions.â€
One woman who paved the way for women in military is retired General Wilma Vaught. In the 1950s, she was expected to have a husband and a child, but her dream was to serve in the military and eventually be in charge. Vaught went through special officers training designed for women to teach them to be â€œcharmingâ€ and â€œattractiveâ€ by showing them how to sit and put on makeup.
Then, the Vietnam War brought a status change for women in the military. As the military found that the tens of thousands of men who had been drafted werenâ€™t enough, in 1967 they decided to get rid of the restriction on the amount of women allowed in the military and let the thousands of women volunteers serve â€“ even as general officers.
General Wilma Vaught had almost 30 years of military service and was the first woman to deploy with an Air Force bomber wing. When she retired in 1985, she was one of seven female generals or admirals in all the armed forces. Today, Vaught is the president of the foundation that runs the Women in Military Service for American Memorial in Arlington, Va.
Who is an inspirational woman in your life, personal or famous? Do you know a woman who has broken through the â€œglass ceilingâ€? Share your story in the comment box below.
For more information on General Wilma Vaught, visit www.npr.org.