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Chapter Three FINDINGA PLACE INTHE SUN Women Army Doctors in World War II I believe in being very realistic about medicine for women. . . . The satisfaction and reward must come from within, not from without. Dr. Margaret D. Craighill, 12 January 1944, Bryn Mawr College W hile the period between World War I and World War II was short, many things changed for female physicians. The 1920s offered great promise for them, especially with the ratification of the woman’s suffrage amendment in 1920. By 1925 nearly 48 percent of women physicians belonged to the American Medical Association (AMA) as compared to the 8 percent of women physicians who had been members of the Medical Women’s National Association (MWNA) between 1916 and 1926. Although not enough hospitals were accepting female interns, many more internships were available , which extended to other institutional positions as well. Contrary to what had been expected in the medical field, the cause of women physicians was not advanced during the 1930s as the percentage of practicing women physicians declined to 4.4 percent of all physicians from 6 percent in 1910. In 1935 the MWNA voted to reincorporate as the American Medical Women’s Association (AMWA), an action that was completed in 1937. Even before the outbreak of World War II, AMWA campaigned to win commissions for women physicians in the medical reserves. In fact, MWNA passed a resolution protesting discrimination against female physicians at the annual meeting in 1932. In 1940 AMWA petitioned the AMA for support in changing the law about women and the medical reserves. When one male delegate of the AMA was asked why that organization held a different position toward women physicians than it did toward nurses who had held military rank since World War I, the answer was simply, “Nurses are well supervised.” Like World War I, however, the Second World War offered women unprecedented opportunities for work outside the home. Despite its horrors, the 62 Chapter 3 war beckoned with its enticements for service, adventure, and professional advancement. Yet even as thousands of young men rushed to volunteer in the armed forces, women across America were still dealing with society’s views regarding their physical fitness and ability to maintain the discipline those military organizations demanded. For women doctors, the War Department’s refusal to accept female physicians deepened a professional crisis that dated back to the Civil War. All along, women physicians had been optimistic to believe that full equality was possible—but still, wartime conditions offered an ideal setting for them to take their place beside their male colleagues. Women doctors were generally united in their opposition to the government ’s refusal to award commissions in the United States Army and Navy to females. At issue was the fact that women physicians could not be admitted to the Medical Reserve Corps of either branch of service at a time when there was an advertised shortage of some one thousand to two thousand male physicians in the corps. By the end of 1942, there were roughly eight thousand women physicians in the United States with six thousand in active practice. When the qualifications for the army’s Medical Reserve Corps (as to age, education , and experience) were reviewed, only about three hundred women were actually eligible. At the same time, roughly six hundred to seven hundred more women interns were about to be graduated who might prove eligible —so in this small group could be found some of the “best equipped specialists ” in the country. If there were concerns that integrating the Medical Reserve Corps might deprive male reservists of positions, it was clear that “women physicians could not possibly overrun the Medical Reserve Corps” as there were too few of them in number. In considering the navy’s Medical Reserve Corps at that time, membership was restricted by law to male citizens , a basic difference between the army and navy that had come to light in the early efforts to secure commissions. In the army there was apparently no ruling preventing women from being members of the medical corps, only that the person be a qualified physician and U.S. citizen. In the navy, however, there was the disqualifying word male in the 1925 ruling. Before women physicians were commissioned in April 1943, the army offered them positions as contract surgeons, but this never occurred in the navy. When it came to supporting the role of women doctors in wartime service , Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer, president of...


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