Certainly no other issue generated more publicity than the admission of female cadets to the service academies.
In December, the Academy updated its contingency plan for integration of females into the Cadet Wing. The plan was still based on the premise that a lead time of at least 18 months would be required to accomplish recruiting, testing and selection programs. From an economic and training viewpoint, a minimum of 150 women was considered to be a minimum enrollment.
Two young women who were turned down as nominees for the Air Force Academy and Annapolis, and their Congressional sponsors, brought a suit challenging the ban on admitting women at all the service academies.
Congressmen and Air Force and DOD officials lined up on both sides of the controversy. Numerous Congressional inquiries were received on the issue. In a reply to Representative Patricia Schroeder (Democrat, Colorado), the Superintendent stated that the established Air Force policy limited admission to males only and emphasized it was not the Academy’s “intention to enroll women until such time that this is clearly the will of congress.” He also stressed that women should not be admitted on a token basis as this “would create a difficult situation for the Academy and the young women involved.
Department of Defense policy on admission of women to the Air Force Academy as enunciated by the Deputy Secretary of Defense, William P. Clements was as follows:
The primary responsibility of the Department of Defense is to provide for the national defense. The Service Academies, in providing officers to fill combat roles in the Armed Forces, are essential ingredients of that national defense. Training cadets at the Academies is expensive, and it is imperative that these opportunities be reserved for those with the potential for combat roles. It should be noted that there are other means available to women to receive a college education and be commissioned in the Armed Forces for their non-combat roles. If it comes to be the judgment of the American people that women should fill combat roles in our Armed Forces, the Department of Defense will undertake to carry out that judgment. But unless that judgment is made, the Department of Defense position is to educate only males at the nation’s Service Academies.
Five bills were before the military personnel subcommittee designed to admit qualified applicants regardless of sex. F. Edward Hebert, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a strong opponent of opening the service academy gates to women, promised a full hearing as soon as DOD had commented on the proposal. In a letter to Hebert dated 26 April, Deputy Defense Secretary Clements stated that a great demand existed for sea duty and combat jobs. Service academy facilities, he said, were “such that to admit females would be to reduce, by the number admitted, the number of critically needed males.” The subcommittee meeting was held on 29 May.
As this historical period closed, the House of Representatives was considering legislation to open the doors of all the service academies to women. Passage of such legislation would effectively eliminate the necessity for the courts to deal with the question.
Pending consideration by the U. S. District Court presided over by Judge Oliver Gasch of the pilot case initiated by the two women and their Congressional sponsors both the Air Force Academy and Annapolis agreed to hold open five spaces in the Class of 1978 for female cadets.
In late June Judge Gasch, sitting in Washington, ruled against the two women. He said that “a legitimate government interest” is served by excluding women from the service academies–“the preparation of young men to assume leadership roles in combat,” the purpose for which the service academies were created. Since women, by law, are barred from combat, Gasch added, it follows that they can be excluded from the academies.
General Clark had filed an affidavit with the U. S. District Court for consideration by that court, relating to the aforementioned case. The Superintendents at West Point and Annapolis and Deputy Defense Secretary William P. Clements also filed similar depositions. General Clark’s affidavit supported the government position in the suit challenging the service’s ban on admission of women, and spelled out in detail the Air Force argument against women cadets. He emphasized that injecting females into the Academy’s largely combat training environment would confuse basic issues which he felt would “cause and erosion of the vital attitudes and influences…essential to the education and military training of future combat leaders.
An immediate appeal was made by the two female applicants to the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The Appeals Court issued an order denying the appeal, declaring the issues raised were “too fundamental” to be dealt with hurriedly. During the court’s next session, the ruling said, a complete hearing of the case on its merits would be held.
The denial by the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals left an emergency appeal directly to the Supreme Court as the only possibility for further court action. There appeared to be little likelihood that the high court would agree to hear the case at this point. Consequently, a forced hiatus in court activity on the women-at-the-academy question seemed inevitable. This situation could give Congress time to make its will known through the legislative process.
The continuing saga of whether women cadets would be authorized to enter the service academies appeared to be almost over. Both Houses of Congress passed an amendment to a $30.3 billion authorization bill authorizing admission of women in July 1976. The bill, which is in conference committee, awaits only final Congressional action and Presidential approval before it becomes law.
As noted in the previous history, the denial by Judge Oliver Gasch, U. S. District Court, of a request by two women to enter a service academy, “could give Congress time to make its will known through the legislative process.
In August, a House Armed Services subcommittee wound up its hearing on a legislative proposal to open the nation’s service academies to women without taking any action on the measure. At these hearings, the final two days featured testimony mostly by advocates of women at the service schools.
The only opposition came from Jacqueline Cochran, leader of several hundred women ferry pilots during World War II and the first woman to break the sound barrier in a jet aircraft. She concluded that, based on her experience, “the female biological urge toward marriage and child-bearing produced inordinate numbers of resignations.”
On 20 November, Judge Gasch’s denial of the right of two applicants to enter the service academies was reversed by a U. S. Court of Appeals opinion. The decision written by U. S. Court Judge J. Skelly Wright and concurred in by Chief Circuit Judge David L. Bazelon and Circuit Judge Carl McGowan ordered Judge Gasch “to hold a full trial on the question of whether women should be admitted to the U. S. Air Force and Naval academies.”
The two judges call “suspect” certain affidavits from military officers citing the need for the men-only rule at the academies because “they came from ‘the very persons charged with unconstitutional discrimination.’” Judge Gasch, in ruling that “a legitimate government interest” is served by the refusal of the academies to admit women, said that the academies’ role was “to prepare young men to assume leadership roles in combat.” The appeals judge held that military officials should be required to explain whether preparation for combat was “the sole purpose, the primary purpose or merely a purpose.”
Any further resort to litigation became largely moot when Congress took action to make attendance at service academies the law of the land. The occasion for House action was the passage of the approximately $32 billion military authorization bill to which Rep Samuel S. Stratton offered the following amendment:
Section 705. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, in the administration of chapter 403 of title 10, United States code (relating to the United States Military Academy), chapter 603 of such title (relating to the United States Naval Academy), and chapter 903 of such title (relating to the United States Air Force Academy), the Secretary of the military department concerned shall take such action as may be necessary and appropriate to insure that female individuals shale be eligible for appointment and admission to the service academy concerned and that the academic and other relevant standards required for the appointment and admission of female individuals shall be the same as those required for the appointment and admission of male individuals, including equal opportunity for appointment under the provisions of sections 4342, 6954, and 9342 of title 10, United States Code.
Representative Stratton told the House that “the idea of women in the service academies is,…an idea whose time has come…a simple matter of equality.” By a vote of 303 to 96 the House approved the amendment after voting 284 to 113 to reject a proposal by Representative Treen (Democrat-Louisiana), that the matter of creating a women’s service academy be studied for a year by the Department of Defense. Another proposal by Representative Murphy of New York to exempt West Point from the provisions of the amendment did not even come to a vote.
Opponents argued that admitting women to the service academies would be the first step toward putting them in combat and that training at the elite academies was intended to prepare officers for combat. Rep Stratton and his supporters stated “that 29 percent of the graduates of the Air Force Academy had never had a combat assignment, and …of the more than 30,000 graduates of all the academies then on active duty more than 10 percent, 3777, had never had a combat assignment.
Sen William D. Hathaway sponsored the amendment to the Senate bill passed on 6 June that would require admission of women to the Naval, Military and Air Force Academies starting in 1976. It was approved by voice vote.
Contingency plans for admission of women cadets to the USAF Academy dated back to 15 September 1972, when the issue began to take on the proportions of a cause célèbre. The Academy feelings regarding admission of females is contained in this statement:
If it is the will of the American people that females attend service academies, the Air Force Academy is prepared to comply. The Air Force Academy has plans for including females in the Cadet Wing. If and when directed, the Air Force will implement these plans.
Pending the signing of the authorization bill containing the “women at the service academies” amendment by President Ford, it was anticipated that women would be admitted on 28 June 1976 as members of the Class of 1980.
– From Offical USAFA History