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Oct. 4, 2021

Women in the U.S. Military during the Cold War

Nearly 350,000 American women served in the US military during World War II. Although the women in the military didn’t engage in combat their presence was vital to the American effort, in clerical work as well as in driving trucks, operating radios and telephones, repairing and flying planes, and of course, in nursing.

Women’s active duty was a temporary wartime measure, but when the war ended, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and General Omar Bradley, among others, argued for the continued presence of women in the military. Rep. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine introduced the Women's Armed Services Integration Act to Congress in January 1948, and President Truman signed the bill into law on June 12, 1948.

From the end of World War II through the Cold War, women in the United States military navigated a space that welcomed and needed their service but put limits on their participation.   To help us learn more, I’m joined by Dr. Tanya Roth, author of the new book, Her Cold War: Women in the U.S. Military, 1945–1980.

Our theme song is Frogs Legs Rag, composed by James Scott and performed by Kevin MacLeod, licensed under Creative Commons. The episode image is: “WAF Officer candidate salutes in front of US flag. Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. November 1952.” The image source is the U.S. Air Force, and it is in the Public Domain.


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Kelly Therese Pollock  0:00  
This is Unsung History, the podcast where we discuss people and events in American history that haven't always received a lot of attention. I'm your host, Kelly Therese Pollock. I'll start each episode with a brief introduction to the topic, and then talk to someone who knows a lot more than I do. Be sure to subscribe to Unsung History on your favorite podcasting app, so you never miss an episode. And please tell your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, maybe even strangers to listen too.

On today's episode, we're discussing women in the United States military between World War II and 1980. Nearly 350,000 American women served in the US military during World War II, in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, the WACs; the Navy Women's Reserve, the WAVEs; the Marine Corps Women Reserve; the Coast Guard Women's Reserve, the SPARs; the Women Air Force Service Pilots, the WASPs; the Army Nurses Corps; and the Navy Nurses Corps. Although the women in the military did not engage in combat, their presence was vital to the American effort in clerical work, as well as in driving trucks, operating radios and telephones, repairing and flying planes, and of course in nursing. The inclusion of women in the military was meant to be temporary, only during the war effort. But some of the military argued for the ongoing need to include women in the ranks. Then representative Margaret Chase Smith of Maine, introduced the Women's Armed Services Integration Act to Congress in January, 1948, to allow women to become regular permanent members of the military. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Walter G. Andrews opposed the bill. But when the committee met for hearings, Secretary of Defense James Forrestal, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and General Omar Bradley, among others, argued for its passage. Both houses of Congress approved with the senate passing the bill unanimously, and the house passing it 206 to 133. President Truman signed the bill into law on June 12, 1948, allowing women to serve as full permanent members of all branches of the armed forces. Because President Truman's executive order desegregating the Armed Forces followed just a month after the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, Black women service members were integrated nearly from the beginning of women's regular service. The Act did not provide unlimited opportunities to women in the US military. Women service members could not serve in combat positions, and at the time, were not permitted even on aircraft and vessels that might engage in combat. Moreover, the number of women in the services was limited to just 2% of each branch, and women were rank limited. In 1951, the Defense Department Advisory Committee on Women in the Services was established to help recruit women to serve in the military for the Korean War. By the armistice in 1953, around 120,000 American women had been active in service during the Korean War. During the Vietnam War, there were more than 265,000 American women serving in the military, around 11,000 of whom served in Vietnam, mostly as nurses; but women also worked as physicians, air traffic controllers, intelligence officers, clerks and other positions. The first nurses arrived as early as 1956. Although women could not serve in combat roles, they were often stationed in combat zones. In November, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90 - 130, which removed the 2% limit on women in the military. The law also removed the promotion restrictions, so women could achieve general or flag officer rank, and more than one woman in each service could be a colonel. In June, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon promoted two women to Brigadier General: Colonel Anna Mae Hays, chief of the Army Nurse Corps and Colonel Elizabeth P. Hoisington, Director of the Women's Army Corps. Until the 1970s, women with children under age 18 could not serve in the military. A service woman who became pregnant would be automatically discharged. In 1975, Pentagon policy changed to allow pregnant women to stay in service and provided for convalescent leave for the birth of a child, decided on a case by case basis on the recommendation of doctors.

In October ,1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed Public Law 94 - 106, which allowed women to be admitted to military colleges, which had previously been all male. In the summer of 1976, the first women began in the military academies. The women cadets in those first cohorts, faced school facilities that hadn't been designed with them in mind, and male cadets who didn't want them there. But in spring, 1980, they graduated from the United States Air Force Academy, the United States Coast Guard Academy, the United States Military Academy, and the United States Naval Academy. It wasn't until 2013 that the ban on women in ground combat was finally lifted by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta. In January 2016, for the first time, all military occupations and positions were opened to women. As of 2020, women made up 16% of the enlisted forces in the military, and 19% of the officer corps.

To help us learn more about the history of women in the United States military, I'm joined by Dr. Tanya Roth, author of the new book,"Her Cold War: Women in the US Military 1945 to 1980." Hi, Tanya, thanks so much for joining me today.

Dr. Tanya Roth  7:20  
Thanks for having me.

Kelly Therese Pollock  7:21  
So I want to hear a little bit about what got you into this topic. I assume this book comes out of your dissertation. So you know what, why were you drawn to do this research?

Dr. Tanya Roth  7:31  
That's it's a good question. And it kind of goes back way longer than I'd like to admit. I think actually, I think one of the fun things for me was writing the acknowledgments section of this book and thinking about where this all came from, because it really started when I was an undergrad. And I had no idea what women's history was. I had no clue. I knew that I wanted to write a thesis, which, because I'm a total geek. And the History Department said take a seminar and there was a seminar on "Gender and World War I." I thought war sounds pretty cool. I think I'll take that one. And the first day, the teacher said, "What do you all want to write about?" No idea. But she assigned Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth," which is about a British woman in World War I who volunteers to become a nurse. At that time, they had no training. It was pretty much take these upper class girls, teach them how to roll a bandage and to clean out a bedpan. And that's about it. And that started it, and then I left it alone. I didn't think I would do anything else after my undergraduate thesis on really British women in the war. But then, it kept niggling at me after I finished and a few years later, went into my PhD and I knew I wanted to study more about women and war. And I started with the World War II, I thought, okay, that's that's been done. We know that story. What happens after that, because all I was hearing was, well, women give up their jobs in the in the private sector in the factories, they go home, they become wives and mothers. And my first semester of graduate school, I took a class on the Cold War, and this really wonderful book had just come out on service women in the Korean War era. I discovered the Women's Armed Services Integration Act in 1948, which nobody had talked about before, nobody wrote about, and it gave women equal pay for joining the military on a permanent basis after World War II. I went, that's really interesting. We have later on, there's a women's movement, but we're giving women equal pay in the military. What does that mean? And for the next six years, I just kept kind of toying with it. So it became a really rich project. It became my dissertation. I ended up doing oral history interviews of about 20 - 24 women, and drawing on other oral histories. And when I finished my degree, and took a job teaching high school, a few people said, "Well, what about the book?"  I said, "Oh, it's gonna become a book. I want this." I think this is a story that needs to be told because we know or people generally Americans tend to know that yes, second wave feminism comes along or, you know, my mother would say the women's libbers or the women's movement in the 70s. And we get more equal rights. But nobody talks about the people who aren't activists, how do they help contribute towards changes in what it means to be a woman or man in American society?

Kelly Therese Pollock  10:13  
Yeah, yeah, that's so cool. So you did, you just mentioned the oral interviews. What other types of sources were you using? You know, I think of the military as probably having really good sources, but not necessarily sources you can easily get to so you know, what part of the project look like?

Dr. Tanya Roth  10:30  
That was fun. I went to about a dozen different archives. I think the first one I went to, and I did not spend as much time there as in retrospect, I might have. Some of this was because I was young and figuring this out. But there's a Women's Army Corps archive in Virginia, I started there. And then I went to the National Archives in College Park, and that's where most of the official documents were. The presidential libraries, the JFK Library, the Eisenhower, a little bit of Truman, Lyndon Johnson Library, it was really great. And the Gerald Ford Library, and they all had various different things. Sometimes, at this point it's all been declassified. And it's 1940s, 50s, 60s, which helps but a really remarkable treasure trove that I found early on in the National Archives was the background materials for the official history of Women's Army Corps. And the woman who wrote that had collected newspaper clippings, official reports. There's correspondence memoranda, but there's also a whole bunch of other materials like recruiting brochures and just ephemera, all sorts of stuff. And it became a really rich treasure trove by different things. And every find looking at something else. So there's also a committee called the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, DACOWITS, still exists today. They got suspended in January, but they're coming back. And their materials are interesting, because they have their meeting minutes every few years. But somehow, I don't know how this happened. Some of the members donated, like scrapbooks, literally, to whoever was managing things, and they ended up in the National Archives. So you'd open up a folder about them, and there'd be, oh, look, there's an article about Marilyn Monroe and service women at the 1951 Miss America competition, and just random things like that. That I think was one of the most fun trails to piece together. The civilian organization of women, everywhere, the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, Radcliffe had some of their materials. So it became this really fun hunt, of both combination of government documents, lots of personal things woven through as well. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  12:40  
So given that immense amount of material there, there, you must have had to have made a fair amount of choices about sort of what to include and what not to include and how to organize it. And you didn't go with just sort of a chronological telling. So can you talk a little bit about sort of how you thought about what parts of this story to include and how to organize it? 

Dr. Tanya Roth  13:03  
Yes, I think that's a really great question, because there's a whole lot. I cover, the Women's Army Corps, the Women Marines women in the Navy, or the WAVEs, and the Air Force, women in the Air Force, I did not include the Coast Guard, because they're only considered military in times of war. So World War II, yes, and I guess, technically, Vietnam, but I didn't find them in the records as much. I also excluded the nurses pretty early on, because they had separate legislation. So it really became, if it was in the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, I covered it. That's a lot. It's a whole lot of stuff. So I didn't want to do one, it didn't make sense to do one service at a time, because a lot of it layers and overlaps. I think my dissertation went a little bit more chronologically. And when I went to prepare the book, I had chapters that were like, 50 pages long. Nobody's gonna read those. And my sense was what if I I told the story in three parts. And the first part is, I think, kind of a top down. And that does start with the earliest chronological piece, because I thought it was really important to tell the story of the how the Women's Armed Services Integration Act got created. It's the first debates about woman power that appear in my book. And some people might look at it and say, Well, why are we reading the legislative history? Because this isn't a history of legislation. But I think there's some really great things that come out of that to help us understand how do they define equality. And then I looked at recruiting and training. So sort of the how are the powers that be envisioning women's service in these early decades? Sometimes the later decades peek in there a little bit because training changes over time, recruiting shifts a little bit, but really, the first third of the book is how is the military, how the leaders in the military designing with its service. Then, as I went into it, I thought, "Oh, I have this other piece that's really important, which is that women are trying to shape their service in various ways." And they're not coming in being like, I don't like this. I'm going to do something else. It's more like, they get in there and they discover a barrier. And sometimes they just go with it. One veteran told me that with her score on electronics, she'd be a shoo- in for computing is what they told her. When she got there, they said, "Oh, women don't do that job. You can't do that". So there's all these variations that on an official level, it looks like one thing and women get in there, and their lived experiences are entirely different. So I wanted to look at women's jobs in particular, what were they supposed to do? What were they allowed to do? And there's not a lot of, I don't think I have a lot of instances where women actively get to get into really remarkably new, amazing jobs. But it does give you a sense of kind of a bridge from the first section to the second section of Okay, this is how they shaped roles for women. And this is how women experienced it. For some women, African American women in particular, they had opportunities they couldn't get elsewhere, that were really remarkable. And it's interesting to listen to their accounts of why they came in and what they got. And then from there two of the other big issues are mothers and lesbians, and I thought these, this has to be two separate chapters, and each their own. And that's where women do push back or encounter these limitations on equality, motherhood, in particular, and then homosexuality as well. The final third, it seemed like a great place to put how were people really actively trying to push change. So other places like the Defense Advisory Committee on Women's Services, and then the President's Commission on the Status of Women under President Kennedy, and then from there towards the Equal Rights Amendment, sort of what's happening towards the end of this timeline. So it kind of keeps pushing towards, what does  equality look like? And how is it changing along the way? 

Kelly Therese Pollock  16:43  
Yeah. And so, you know, I think I, in my mind have this picture. And of course, I was a kid in the 80s, so my picture of sort of service women and stuff really comes probably out of the 80s. But the women veterans I know, haven't necessarily changed that image of, of being really, you know, sort of athletic, strong, you know, kind of this GI Jane sort of model. But that is not how they sold women's military service in the early days of this after this 1948 law. So can you talk a little bit about that, what that looked like in those early days? And you mentioned this, this piece with Marilyn Monroe, and , like fun stories, so maybe we can talk about that as well.

Dr. Tanya Roth  17:23  
Yes, this is so interesting, because they seem to be when I say they, I mean military leaders in particular, who are, it's an interesting mix, because each of the women's Services has female leaders. And then there's also the men above that. So I'm just gonna say colloquially like, they the leaders, they imagine that they need to make women's service attractive to civilian families. And they want to make it look just right. There were a few rumors in World War II that these women had joined the military to sleep around with lots of men, or maybe they were all lesbians who just wanted to meet other women. So they're like, if we can structure this as the ideal American woman, she was defined as a white middle class woman. What's it what would she want ? Like, if you're an American woman, and you want to meet a good guy, and get married and have children, what will make you attractive? So having them in these, these uniforms that are designed by major designers and the Marine Corps had, this goes back to World War II, but the red rim on their hat matched a lipstick color that they had, for example, and things like that. They want them to look the part and all the recruiting materials really highlight that. One of my favorites is the early 60s: "Somebody Special," and Barbara is, like there's a whole two-page spread with a giant rose, and she's wearing her gloves, her beautiful uniform, and it's all about how there's nothing more beautiful than a woman in uniform. And it's so different from what we see now with camouflage and fatigues. And they didn't have those until the 70s at all. They even limit, there's a few instances where women learn how to fire guns, but that doesn't last very long. They're really really careful with that because they want Americans to see these as proper women who are not at all merely trying to try to get a man. Although if we find husbands ,that's just a side benefit they would say. They're not, they're not going to have in the recruiting advertisements to make it sound like of course, you can meet someone and have a great time,

Kelly Therese Pollock  19:16  
But then you have the baby and have to leave.

Dr. Tanya Roth  19:19  
Exactly. So that's a really calculated thing. I don't I don't talk about this in the book, but I did look into it earlier. I wrote a paper about it years ago. An interesting layer is in their free time they did form softball teams, basketball teams, athletic experiences, way before Title IX, so there are ways in which women in the military can become athletic, but within certain confines. It's just very tightly structured in order to avoid the kind of criticism that they had in World War II and I think that it generally works. I don't know if it ever deterred women. None of the women I talked to who joined ever said that the perception deterred them. They were looking at the benefits. So, that's all. That was a more important thing for them, like getting out of a small town in Alaska, for example, and finding a career. So I haven't heard anybody tell me that they didn't like that. But there, there's a moment I cut this from the book because another scholar ended up talking about it in her book that came out. But in the Vietnam War, there's a group of women in a Women's Army Corps who go to Vietnam, and they write back this letter saying, "Wait a second. You want us to wear gloves? And you want us to wear these types of uniforms? Are we here to do a job? Or are we here to look pretty because these uniforms are not practical in the tropical heat." And nothing really ever comes of it, as I recall. But that moment in the late 60s, it's kind of where it all comes to a head, like, let's really think about what we're asking you to do here. But I think as a public image, it seems to work very well. It also is supposed to act as a deterrent, because clearly, this is my sarcastic voice coming in here. They seem to think that clearly anyone who's lesbian will not want to join if you have to look this way. Because there's this perception that lesbians are certain, very masculine, the stereotype which we all know is a very dated stereotype. So it seems to accomplish their goals of public perception, in terms of keeping homosexual women out. It does not, which is another story. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  21:20  
So then is it 1951 they decided to use the Miss America Pageant as sort of recruiting and then Marilyn Monroe comes and sort of upsets the applecart. What happens in the story?

Dr. Tanya Roth  21:33  
So yes, the Miss America pageant and Marilyn Monroe. This is this is fascinating. It kind of brings in both that early publicity effort and the Defense Advisory Committee on Women's Services. I think it started in that year. So the first big coordinated "let's recruit women" thing happens in 1951. And the big tagline is called "Share Service for Freedom." But they're really showing attention to women do the same things that support service as men do, thinking about equality of service. And the Miss America pageant that year, they think this is going to be a great place to recruit women to promote this. So they head out there to the pageant. And they have tables set up with service women sharing brochures. I don't know if they imagined that the Miss America contestants would would join. I don't think I'm not sure what they were thinking. But at least they wanted to build an association in Americans' minds that Miss America, she's amazing. Guess what? So are we, and that was the first time Miss America Pageant used a grand marshal. And that happened to be Miss Marilyn Monroe, who was an up and coming actress at the time. So they had her she's either--you can find clips of the parade--she's riding in a car, waving. And somewhere along the way, somebody goes, "Oh, let's get a photograph of Marilyn, and the four service women right here to take the shot." And this is one of the items I first found in a Defense Advisory Committee on Women's Services folder. And it was just like, the title was something like,"Are We Embarrassed by Marilyn's Low- cut Dress?" And by our standards, it's not at all, but the angle of the shots, I mean, if you think about taking selfies and how usually you want to have your camera above you, it's kind of from a top down angle. And somebody saw that image and just freaked out, oh my gosh, we have this woman with a low- cut dress. And we cannot possibly run this. Of course, it gets run in several newspapers. And I really wish I could have included that image in the book. I couldn't. But it is online. If you go looking for it. I did. A great picture, isn't it? I love it. So it's just this this moment, and I don't think it had any fallout. But it really, it gets that that "crap, we don't want this association." I really wish, it wouldo be fascinating. I haven't seen this. But I would love to know what that official thought a year later, when Marilyn Monroe ended up on the cover of Playboy Magazine's first issue. And, incidentally, I believe the cover photo of Playboy is from the Miss America pageant, which I think is just another like we start with the military wanted to make this association and Playboy a year later trying to make the same association with Marilyn.

Kelly Therese Pollock  24:12  
So I think what's fascinating about so much of this story is of course the military is not a particularly progressive place. And you know, they they have these moments where this is an early place where women are, can get equal pay to an extent I mean, there's limits of how far they can rise up in the ranks and all of that, but at least for the same job, you know, they can get the same pay. And there are other moments where the military really is in in a certain sense sort of out ahead of the the rest of US society in terms of integration of sexes, but but is not progressive. And so you have all these moments where people in the military like I'm not a feminist, right? So can you talk some about that sort of interplay between sort of military and military policy and what they're doing for  very pragmatic reasons, and how that it sort of plays with and against American society.

Dr. Tanya Roth  25:07  
Yes. So that when they create the the act of 1948, and they say, "Oh, we're giving women equality", we have to see it is that they have no, it doesn't contradict in their heads that you can say women are equal, but they can only achieve up to these ranks, and they can't be in combat. So they really aren't going to have equal pay in some circumstances, but they're really equal. And so for me, I tend to see it as this evolution of how we define equal and that as we get into circumstances that you know, these women had these jobs. They're not even most of them thinking about equality, because they're just looking for a job. And then they hit the barriers and they push back, or they leave with their feet, because they're not getting what they need. And for service women on the ground, it's usually just a very personal like, wait, what do you mean, I can't stay in the military, because I had a baby, this is all nuts. And not just having a baby, but if you became a stepmother, to somebody who had children, and those children lived with you more than 30 days of the year, you're out. Conversely, though, if a man was in the military and it was his step- children, like they could stay in the service. I guess, you know, grandparents would help out or something. I don't know whether I'm certain there were conversations in the 60s and 70s, in the barracks, or on the job between women talking about equality, their jobs and limitations. But when I talked to women, I never encountered a woman who said to me, "Oh, yeah, of course I was, you know, I was harassed, or I was discriminated against. So no, I just had all these opportunities."  And which was really remarkable to me that now we can look back and say, Wow, that was so limiting. But at the time, for them, it just was something they couldn't have dreamed of getting elsewhere, traveling or getting that equal paycheck. The women's leaders, the directors of the different services, they're the ones who engage more directly in that question, and I think it's because they were the top brass. So as we get into the 70s, the ones that stand out to me, are General Mildred Bailey of Women's Army Corps, and General Jeanne M. Holm from the Women's Air Force, those two women in particular. There are a few others that have these conversations a little bit towards the end. I know there are a few other women as well, where they debate like, what does it mean for women to be equal? And for some of them, there they flat out say, "Combat's not going to make us equal. Why are we trying to just get rid of every barrier? It's important to still recognize that women and men have different functions, and we can be equal within those those statuses." Those are the biggest conversations where they get to equality. Early on, it just seems to be the standard, of course, we're equal until we find out that we're hitting rank limits and women are unhappy. 

Kelly Therese Pollock  27:50  
Yeah, I think part of what's interesting, too, is is all these things that we just sort of can't know. So you know, you can't know how many women were homosexuals who just didn't tell anyone and just kept it hidden.You can't know how many women didn't join the military because of certain things. So I think that's interested in of course, you just can't like, right? You know, are there are, are there pieces that I don't know, either surprised you that you could get information or that you sort of really wanted to? And there was no way to figure it out?

Dr. Tanya Roth  28:24  
Yes, there's a lot of things that that surprised me that I could get. I've been thinking a lot in the last month or so about the topic of abortion in particular, which is both an area that I would love to get more on, but also an area where I feel like I got a pretty good amount. For example, there's a document that says, "Oh, yes, in this last year, 5400 women got abortions in the Women's Army Corps." I'm like, how do you know that? I want to know how you know that. Or also just in the military, broadly. So there's some really interesting records, right around Roe versus Wade just before and just after that, like, how do you know that, but then I would find tantalizing pieces like there'd be a case file that was marked like "Black Abortion Case." And I'm like, Yes, give me that. And there's nothing there that can be substantiated. And just like, I would love to know. There are times when I find people's names and I'll start googling them. Just I think my, one of my favorite stories that's similar to that is the end of my chapter about homosexuality. I talked about this really interesting case that didn't make it into the news in the 70s. And I think it's remarkable because it's, it shifts into a conversation that we have today. In 1976, a member of the Women's Army Corps in Alabama gets married. And it turns out later on that the spouse goes to commissary, or the the the post exchange, and somebody recognizes the spouse and recognizes the spouse as a former member of the Women's Army Corps. It is a woman who has transitioned that is now male and married. The judge who performed the ceremony said he had no idea that they were both biologically female. So it's a really early instance of a case of, of transgender encounters for the military. And it's not something you see a lot of in the 70s. I'm I know there are many service members who have transitioned since that time or may have transitioned, and we just don't know about it. But the marriage is totally legal. Like there wasn't at this time, there wasn't a language yet to say that same sex marriage was wrong. And the judge never, never questioned it. So they were legally married. And when the military finds out they they, they freak out with what in the world is going on here. And so there's some interesting pieces I could find here. I have, there's a part of me that would love to find this couple and interview them all these years later. But I also have not because I found some similar names online. Should I reach out, but I also don't want to disturb somebody's privacy after this long because I'm not sure how traumatic was this. What is interesting is that they end up discharging the the service member who's still in the Women's Army Corps, on the basis, the basis of homosexuality, but they give her an honorable discharge, which is also surprising for the time because that wasn't really done. So it seems like they really didn't know what to do in this moment. And it was this, this file that was just labeled "WAC Marriage Case", and it doesn't end up in the official history. These are the things that I'm like, Oh, you left a lot of stuff out. I'm gonna, I'm gonna put this stuff in.

Kelly Therese Pollock  31:35  
Yeah. Oh, I love that. So I want to ask too, you are now a high school teacher, I think you mentioned at the top, and you teach history in high school. There's a lot of talk in, in academia about, you know, there aren't enough Professor jobs out there. And you know, and thinking about other kinds of careers, that that people with doctorates in history can be doing, should be doing. And so I wanted to ask some about your experiences, teaching history, and what that is like to teach at the high school level. And I just hear wonderful things about Generation Z. So you know, what, what, what they're like, and what, what sorts of things and they can help inform your view of history?

Dr. Tanya Roth  32:16  
Yes, I love it. It's something that if you'd asked me when I started graduate school, I would not have thought of, but I did go into graduate school thinking, I'd love to be a professor, but I know the job market is bad. So who knows what will happen. And I saw this thread of careers, about the middle of my, my grad school time, and thought this could be good. But I had not really taught high school before I had a couple of instances in graduate school where I was a special guest speaker at a local high school. It was very fun to go for Vietnam day and talk about the women in the Vietnam War, and have somebody asked me if I was in the Vietnam War. There I was 30 years old. I was like, No, but they know about that. But it's been tremendous. The school that I landed at, it's, I was already living in St. Louis. So that's always a nice help. But it's fantastic. It's an environment that has really collegial setup, but also very team like atmosphere for how we teach. So I get to do a lot of collaboration with my colleagues. And I've learned so much from them. I teach mostly 20th century world history, I did a minor field in world history in grad school. I love it, because there's always something new to learn. I love learning. So being in a high school, I don't need to know much more. I don't need to have lots of books in my head to teach topics. But it's really fun, because somebody might ask you a question about Afghanistan, which they're all asking about these days. And like, let's go look that up. I know how to look it up, right? That's my expertise, I can find this the information, I can distill it pretty quickly, we can talk about it. So there's always something new to discover. In the last few years, one of the things I noticed, I also teach US history. It's essentially AP US history without the official AP, AP label 10th grade. And a couple of years ago, I had had about two years off from teaching any US history, which was very strange as an American historian, but when I came back to it, it gave me an entirely different perspective. And that's what I've been thinking about the last couple years is that every time I enter the classroom, it's a different group of kids. I'm sure every teacher, high school, college level feels this way. But it helps me see things a little differently each time. So my understanding of this topic will shift a little bit potentially, based on the things I hear from my kids. And my students are, they're wonderful. They're so curious, and they ask questions and they want to know things. And there's also this playful spirit that you don't always get with college students. I know it can be there. But, you know, you can convince ninth and 10th graders that maybe we should do a simulation of, you know the Treaty of Versailles today, right? Or we're gonna throw in a song from Hamilton to start off with and talk about it. But it's that curiosity and that interest and one of the things I've always loved is helping people learn to write. And that I think one of the best things in graduate  school that I had was a course on teaching - centered workshop on giving effective writing, writing feedback, and that, I think is the thing that, if nothing else, I hope I've helped my students over the years. But I also think it helped me as a writer too, because when you have to explain at a slightly lower level with high schoolers, or I'm also teaching seventh grade this year, so that level as well, having to explain to people why their writing works or doesn't work, when they're not even quite sure they know what a thesis is yet, I think it helped make me a better writer. I'm hoping. I think that the book that I wrote in this last couple years is so very different from what it would have been if I had just done it right after graduate school. And I, I like to think my students helped make it better.

Kelly Therese Pollock  35:43  
Yeah, that's great. Is there anything else that you wanted to make sure we talk about today?

Dr. Tanya Roth  35:47  
I just, I think that, my hope is that with this book that people will, it occupies this really interesting space. And this is maybe my just my perception from the last decade or so. But it often feels like when we look at women's military history, military historians, they're getting better at this, but they don't always know what to do with women and gender. I think it has come a long way from when I started this. On the flip side, women's historians don't always know what to do with the military. So it feels like for me, this has always kind of occupied this interesting space where I worry that some people who are interested in women's history will look at this and go, military not really interested. But to me, this is fundamentally a book about women as workers and how they happen to be in the military. And it's a government organization, and how does this idea of equality change over time? I hope that it helps people better understand what women's status is in the military today. It doesn't tell the story from the 80s on but I hope it helps us understand a little bit of the debates that we see today.

Kelly Therese Pollock  36:49  
Yeah, yeah, I think so. And I think the other thing, and I've been having this conversation with with several guests now, about sort of what happens in between the waves of feminism, and it's very much captures that, you know. Women are still trying to do things, women are still trying to make their way through the world of work and all of that in between these, you know, waves of feminism and, and they're still pushing for things. And what does that look like? So yeah, I love that. I love the way that that fills in some of that story.

Dr. Tanya Roth  37:17  
And I love that you brought it back to that too, because I think that's another thing. My mother grew up in the 60s and 70s and was in college in the early 70s. I don't think for her the military was ever something she would have looked at right? It just, she's from Iowa, not something she would have considered. As she would never call herself an activist. I think she once said she did one protest at college, and wasn't sure what it was for. I think there's a part of me that's always wondered about what about these women who don't think of them? How do we even if we don't think of ourselves as activists, how do the choices we make help feed into larger change?

Kelly Therese Pollock  37:50  
Yeah, well, how can people get the book? 

Dr. Tanya Roth  37:53  
So it is on the University of North Carolina Press website at It's also available on Amazon. My website is  t a n y a r o t h. com. I've got links to both of those there if it's easy, and yeah.

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:11  
Excellent. I will put links in the show notes as well. And of course everybody listening probably knows that I love the UNC press.

Dr. Tanya Roth  38:19  
They're amazing. I'm so fortunate to be with them. They're fantastic people.

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:23  
Yeah. Well, excellent. Tanya, thank you so much. This was a it was a fascinating read. And it was really fun to you know, sort of fill in the, of course, I knew there were women in World War II. And I knew there were women in the military today, and I had no idea how we got from one to the other. So great to fill that in.

Dr. Tanya Roth  38:40  
Excellent. Thank you so much, Kelly. This is so much fun. Yeah,

Kelly Therese Pollock  38:42  
Yeah thank you.

Teddy  38:45  
Thanks for listening to Unsung History. You can find the sources used for this episode at To the best of our knowledge, all audio and images used by Unsung History are in the public domain or our used with permission. You can find us on Twitter, or Instagram @Unsung__History, or on Facebook at Unsung History Podcast. To contact us with questions or episode suggestions, please email If you enjoyed this podcast, please rate and review and tell your friends.


Tanya RothProfile Photo

Tanya Roth

By day, I get to explore history with my amazing students. Since 2011, I've taught high school history at an independent school in the St. Louis area. I've learned that I discover something new every time I teach a topic. I love getting to make new discoveries about the past, and being a teacher means I spend a lot of time thinking about how we study history and make it accessible to others.

In graduate school, I studied US and women's history with a side of world history. These days, I mostly teach US and world history, and know a surprising amount of modern African and modern Asian history for an Americanist. (Did I mention I love history?)

When I'm not teaching or lesson planning - a creative process all its own - I read a lot of books, write, and spend time with my son and husband. I love binge watching a good show (or re-watching Doctor Who), and recently caved to the Marvel Cinematic Universe experience (WandaVision > Falcon and the Winter Soldier any day). I root for AFC Richmond. My favorite authors include Neil Gaiman and Deborah Harkness, but I'll also never give up my love of all the American Girl books from my childhood, Ray Bradbury's works, and a good Agatha Christie mystery.

I dream about traveling again when the world is not in a pandemic: I've been fortunate to see most of the U.S. and take trips to wonderful places like Taiwan, South Africa, and the U.K.