The Army Reserve will be commanded by a woman for the first time in history, USA Today reported Wednesday. Jody Daniels, a career intelligence officer, breaks a 112-year record of men leading the Army Reserve. The women’s movement of the 1960s brought great change.
According to USA Today, Jody Daniels is making military history for her promotion to lieutenant general in the Army Reserve. “Like all the armed services, the Army has struggled to diversify its ranks,” the article said. “Earlier this summer, Air Force Gen. Charles Brown was named the first Black service chief in history.”
However, the article noted, barriers for women in the armed forces have been slowly coming down. “Last year, Maria Barrett and Paula Lodi became the first sisters in Army history to reach the rank of general,” it said.
One major push for women’s rights occurred in the 1960s. Middle-class American women felt their talents—and even their lives—were being wasted in an idealized image of men working and women staying home.
State of the Unions
The 1960s are far from ancient history, but there are some surprising differences between then and now—especially when it comes to gender roles in the workplace.
“At that time, prior to 1965, it was entirely legal to discriminate against women in unemployment; in other words, to specify that only men could apply for certain jobs,” said Dr. Patrick N. Allitt, Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University. “Additionally, in jobs where men and women both did them, it was also permissible to discriminate in pay—to pay the women less.”
In some states, women weren’t even allowed to be jurors.
Where middle-class women often sought work in the 1960s to pursue a career and find something more stimulating in life than just the domestic, Dr. Allitt said that working-class women, who outnumbered middle-class women, had often had to work already, in order to make ends meet.
One silver lining of World War II was that of greater employment opportunity for working-class women. However, he said, they often continued to work out of economic necessity rather than “seeking the gratification of careers” like their wealthier counterparts.
Eleanor Roosevelt Gets the Job Done
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy appointed a Commission on the Status of Women, which was spearheaded by Eleanor Roosevelt. Dr. Allitt said that the report the Commission issued agreed that women were being discriminated against and the women’s movement took form in response to this. Anti-discrimination laws soon followed.
“The result was that, in the 1960s, there was a sharp rise in the number of women entering the American workforce, particularly women entering into professional jobs, previously all-male and previously high-profile jobs,” Dr. Allitt said.
In the 1960s and 1970s, corporations often tried a loophole of tokenism to avoid scrutiny. They would hire one woman—generally one who was considered attractive—in a senior role so that the public image of their company was an attractive woman. Slowly, however, more companies hired women in additional professional roles.
“By the 1980s, the most sacrosanct areas were being changed,” Dr. Allitt said. “For example, President Reagan chose the first woman to be a Supreme Court justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, partly to allay claims that he was an old-fashioned sexist. In 1984, for the very first time, one of the two major political parties—the Democrats—chose a woman as the running mate for their presidential candidate.”
Jody Daniels and women like her in the armed forces are taking the latest step in diversifying a male-dominated workforce, proving that the discrimination found in the 1961 report by the Commission on the Status of Women can be overcome.
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt contributed to this article. Dr. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Dr. Allitt is also an Oxford University graduate.