Lyndon B. Johnson photo

Remarks Upon Signing Bill Providing Equal Opportunity in Promotions for Women in the Armed Forces

November 08, 1967

Mr. Vice President, distinguished Members of the Secretariat and the Armed Forces, Members of the Congress, Mrs. Hobby, Judge Hughes, ladies and gentlemen:

We have come here this morning to strike another blow for women's rights. At long last we are going to give the dedicated women of our Armed Forces the equal treatment and the equal opportunity that they should have had from the very beginning.

We took the precaution this morning of asking the ladies to supply the honor guard. That is in case there are still some diehard traditionalists who do not approve of our action.

As our good friends Senator Margaret Smith and Congresswoman Bolton, Mrs. Hobby, and many others can testify, women in uniform have had to fight on more than the battlefield of war. I well recall when one of my male colleagues in the House of Representatives, back in 1942 when we were debating the bill to create the WAAC, had this to say:

"I think it is a reflection upon the courageous manhood of this country to pass a law inviting women to join the Armed Forces in order for us to win a battle.

"Take the women into the Armed Forces, who then will do the cooking, the washing, the mending, the humble homey tasks to which every woman has devoted herself?

"Think of the humiliation! What has become of the manhood of America?"

But the ladies won their battle--and the manhood of America has survived. Colonel Hobby got her Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and the school opened in Fort Des Moines, Iowa. All of you who may have been there will remember what she said on that day:

"You have a debt to democracy, a date with destiny." I think history has recorded how magnificently our American women have lived up to that obligation and have kept that date. They are still keeping it.

There are more than a thousand women in our Armed Forces in Vietnam today. There are some here this morning to witness this ceremony who have returned from Vietnam.

I think you would like to see them, express your appreciation to them, and give them a hand. If they will stand up, I will appreciate it.

Our Armed Forces literally could not operate effectively or efficiently without our women. Yet, we nearly lost them at the end of the Second World War. In 1948 the House Armed Services Committee voted to retire the WACS and the WAVES to the Reserves. There was to be no place for them in the regular services.

But that action was reversed. The ladies of the Congress--and perhaps a few female allies in the press gallery--changed that action.

Our gallant ladies were assured permanent status in the military services. But even then they were not assured equal opportunity. From that day to this day a woman choosing a military career could expect to do her job with fewer promotions and therefore, with less pay than a man who was doing the same type of work. Furthermore, she had only about 10 percent as much chance of being promoted above the grade of major--and she had no chance at all of ever being promoted above the grade of colonel.

With the signing of this bill this morning, we are going to end that inequity.

This bill will give the career women of our Armed Forces no special privileges. But it does relieve them from some very special handicaps.

The bill does not create any female generals or female admirals--but it does make that possible. There is no reason why we should not someday have a female Chief of Staff or even a female Commander in Chief.

I realize that a few of our gentlemen officers may not be too enthusiastic about this possibility. And I can understand why: As Dr. Samuel Johnson once observed, "Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little."

But from now on, the officers and men of our Armed Forces will just have to take their chances in open competition along with the rest of us.

This is a free country. This is a democratic country. I think the time has now passed when opportunity can be denied to anyone.

We gave women the vote and somehow the country survived. In this administration we have passed laws that provide that women in industry must receive equal pay for equal work. And the economy seems to continue to prosper.

We have brought women to ever higher and more influential positions throughout the land--and the Government has improved. Women are leaders and doers today in our Congress and throughout our Government.

So here today in the East Room in the White House we will end the last vestige of discrimination--I hope--in our Armed Forces.

So both as President and as the Commander in Chief I am very pleased and very proud to have this measure sent to me by the Congress.

I can think of no better company in which to sign it. For in a very real sense this law belongs to every one of you who are here in this room this morning.

It is also a great pleasure, before I engage in the signing ceremony, to take this opportunity in the presence of this very distinguished audience from the Congress, Government, services, and the country to honor two very brave ladies of our Armed Forces for very outstanding service in connection with the conflict in which our Nation is engaged in Vietnam.

To Air Force Nurse Colonel Ethel A. Hoefly we are going to award this morning the Legion of Merit. And to Army Nurse Major Marie L. Rodgers, we are going to award the Bronze Star.

Colonel Kobach [see APP note] and Colonel Hayes will read the citations.

[At this point the citations were read. The President then resumed speaking.]

Our Vice President has just spent 11 days in Southeast Asia and has just completed a report to the National Security Council, the Cabinet, and the appropriate leaders in the Congress in connection with his observations on that trip.

The one outstanding thing, and the most important of all that I know will give all of you great pride, was his observation that the military leaders in that area--the best men that we have been able to produce--feel that we have never had a better trained or better equipped fighting force and we have never had better morale found anywhere in the uniform of the United States than in those men and women who are holding high our flag in Vietnam today.

I know you join me in expressing gratitude-thanks to all of them and to the Vice President.

Note: The President spoke at 11:15 a.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his opening words he referred to Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, Oveta Culp Hobby, first Director of the Women's Army Corps, and Sarah T. Hughes, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Texas. Later he referred to Col. Ethel R. Kobach, Chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps and Col. Anna Mac Hayes, Chief of the Army Nurse Corps, who read the citations commending the distinguished services of Colonel Hoefly in Japan and Okinawa and of Major Rodgers in Vietnam.

As enacted, the bill (H.R. 5894) is Public Law 90-130 (81 Stat. 374).

On October 13, 1967, the President signed Executive Order 11375 providing equal opportunity for women in Federal employment and employment by Federal contractors (3 Weekly Comp. Pres. Docs., p. 1437; 32 F.R. 14303; 3 CFR, 1967 Comp., p. 320).

APP Note: In President Johnson's remarks and the accompanying official notes, the officer's name should have been spelled as Ethel R. Kovach (not Kobach). APP policy, followed in this case as well, is to reproduce the original published text of the Public Papers as accurately as possible, including errors. We appreciate the contribution in this case by user Roslyn Sterling.


Lyndon B. Johnson, Remarks Upon Signing Bill Providing Equal Opportunity in Promotions for Women in the Armed Forces Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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