War and American Women: Heroism, Deeds, and Controversy

By William B. Breuer | Go to book overview

13 Clash over the Service Academies

For two years by the spring of 1974, F. Edward Hébert, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, had been deflecting repeated efforts by colleagues to pass legislation permitting women to enter the service academies at West Point, Annapolis, and Colorado Springs. Since their founding, these institutions had been male only. In May, Hébert, under heavy pressure from within and outside of Congress, called hearings on an academy integration bill introduced by Republican Representative Pierre "Pete" du Pont, scion of a wealthy Delaware family.

The hearings were bound to generate fireworks. Both sides on the controversial issue had already mobilized and were prepared for the clash. Curiously, the directors of the four women's services were equally divided on the thorny issue.

"We don't need to send women to the [Military] Academy to get sufficient qualified women into our officers' program," said Brigadier General Mildred Bailey of the Army. "The armed forces should be able to spend more time on national defense and less time on items like this that we don't need."1

Captain Robin Quigley of the Navy agreed. "The [Naval] Academy exists for one viable reason, to train seagoing naval officers and to give the Marine Corps a hard core of career regular officers," Quigley explained. "There is no room, no need, for a woman to be trained in this mode, since by law and by sociological practicalities, we would not have women in these seagoing or warfare specialties."2

Brigadier General Jeanne Holm of the Air Force held a different point of view. "I would like to see women in the [Air Force] Academy in the not too distant future," she declared.3

There was no doubt where the Pentagon brass stood on the issue: They were strongly opposed to it. Two weeks before the hearings were to convene, Under Secretary of Defense William R. Clements sent a letter to Hébert detailing the department's objections to du Pont's bill. Clements argued that the service academies trained men for combat and sea duty, from which women were barred by law, and that most, but not all, graduates served on ships or were assigned to fighting units. Moreover, he added, the armed

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