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Integration Realities

Racial integration took place unevenly, with each service setting its own pace. Because women comprised such a small percentage of the force, the number of training facilities, bases and posts to which they were assigned was also small, and the majority of these were integrated quickly and without fanfare. The first two black women Marines entered basic training in 1949, while the Navy integrated its 25 black enlisted women and two black women officers in 1950.15The Army and Air Force also integrated basic and advanced training classes for women quickly, the Air Force in 1949 and the Army in 1950.16 The integration of women’s barracks and quarters sometimes took longer. For example, an Army nurse who served in Korea during the war remembered that quarters were integrated while she was there.17

The Women’s Army Corps (WAC) and the Army Nurse barracks at the 98th General Hospital in Germany were integrated in 1951, however, it was 1953 before the nurses’ quarters at the Army’s Percy Jones General Hospital in Battle Creek, MI, were integrated.18 According to historians within six years of the issuance of Executive Order 9981, “the tradition of racial segregation had collapsed throughout the armed forces.”19

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the military services assigned non-nursing servicewomen, both black and white, to detail-oriented desk jobs that involved typing, filing and high-speed communications.20 During that era, it was widely believed that women were particularly suited for such assignments because they had more patience than men.21 This pervasive belief was not new, during both World War I and World War II (WWII), for example, proponents of women in uniform insisted that women could handle boring, repetitive tasks such as switchboard work and transcription better than men because they had more natural patience and would not become careless out of boredom and frustration.22 At the same time, many of the nontraditional jobs that servicewomen had performed during the WWII manpower emergency were no longer open to them. The usual explanation was that because of the small number of women in each service, it was more efficient to train them for a limited number of jobs.23

15Witt et al., 36-37, 49-52, 240.

16Witt et al., 36-37, 49-52, 240.

17Women In Military Service For America Memorial Register (hereafter Women’s Memorial Register), Evelyn Decker, Captain, US Army, Registration #094580.

18Witt et al., 237-239; Margaret E. Bailey, The Challenge: Autobiography of Colonel Margaret E. Bailey, (Lisle, Ill.: Tucker Publications, 1999), 61-62.

19Sherie Mershon and Steven Schlossman, Foxholes and Color Lines: Desegregating the U.S. Armed Forces (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 219.

20Holm, 175-185.

21Witt et al., 1-12.

22Holm, 11-12, 62-63.

23Witt et al., 160.