“Not Less a Mother”: Military Motherhood, 1953 and 2015

The woman who leaves her children to work for them, the woman who makes herself available for civil defense, the woman who serves in a governmental position of responsibility, as well as the woman who participates in Reserve activity, is not less a mother for having done so. – Major Alba Martinelli Thompson, 1953 (1)

Today, CNN published a powerful image: a group of soldiers in uniform, breastfeeding their children. In the midst of a year when women continue to make history for breaking barriers in the armed forces, one of the things that is powerful about this image is that it simultaneously underscores the ability of women to be both soldiers and mothers. This dual identity has long been contested; it wasn’t until the 1970s that mothers could remain in the service at all after having children.

In the 1940s, as Congress debated the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act to allow women a permanent place in the military, the question of motherhood was on the forefront of many minds. For instance, Carl Vinson (D-GA) argued “we should not put anything in the law which should cause them [servicewomen] to hesitate getting married or to raise a family; on the contrary, we should encourage it.”(2) Today, that might sound very forward-thinking, but in 1947 and 1948, that really meant “let’s make sure women have a way out so that they can become wives and mothers.”

For the next 30 years, the assumption that women would become wives and mothers – and thus lose interest in working – underwrote all military policy regarding women in the services. Until the 1970s, motherhood in all forms (childbirth, adoption, or by marriage) meant automatic discharge for servicewomen. In fact, following Vinson’s comment, the head of the Women’s Army Corps confirmed that yes, a provision in the act that allowed easy discharge for women was designed in case of pregnancy. A few years later, President Truman further clarified policy with Executive Order 10240, which authorized women’s discharge if she:

(a) is the parent, by birth or adoption, of a child under such minimum age as the Secretary [of the branch] concerned shall determine,
(b) has personal custody of a child under such minimum age,
(c) is the step-parent of a child under such minimum age and the child is within the household of the woman for a period of more than thirty days a year ,
(d) is pregnant, or
(e) has, while serving…given birth to a living child

For 25 years following this, women consistently found themselves out of the military and thus out of work as soon as motherhood entered their lives. While some women may have welcomed or expected this policy, many others challenged it consistently through the years. In 1953, Army Reserve Major Alba Martinelli Thompson, a World War II veteran, became the first to challenge her discharge upon pregnancy.

Speaking in front of a Congressional Committee to challenge pregnancy discharge, Thompson’s words 62 years ago continue to resonate today, reflected by the thousands of women who have combined motherhood and service to their country despite what was so long deemed impractical and impossible by the military and both the executive and legislative branches.

“The woman who leaves her children to work for them, the woman who makes herself available for civil defense, the woman who serves in a governmental position of responsibility, as well as the woman who participates in Reserve activity, is not less a mother for having done so. Not because we love our children less, but because we love them more do we carry our energies and our hopes beyond the walls of our homes…Each woman serves her family who makes use of her skills and talents to bring about the greater security of her home. Some do it from within the home; some from without.”

Major Martinelli Thompson passed away two and a half years ago at the age of 94. Although she lost her bid to retain her Reserve status after becoming a mother, she went on to an active life of public engagement. She’d likely be pleased to know how much things have changed.

(1) Armed Forces Reserve Act: Hearings before a Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services, United States Senate,‖ (HR 5426) 82nd Congress, Second Session, May 1952, 19-20.
(2)House Armed Services Subcommittee Hearings on S.1641, February-March 1948, 5667; Publications of the U.S. Government, Record Group 287 (RG287); National Archives Building, Washington, DC (NAB).

Think, think, think

After a nearly 2-year hiatus, I’m back.

I think.

The school year starts soon, and with it, my fifth year of teaching high school. My goal this year is to write more about my approach to teaching, resources and ideas I’ve found, and check in regularly with progress on making a book out of the dissertation.

Stay tuned.

Student, Again

Three days into the AP Summer Institute, I have to confess that I’m 92% loving it, if I can actually give it an A- like that and make it sound legit. Really, it’s turned out to offer quite a lot for me. Over the past two days, I’ve gotten some great ideas for activities, been able to reconcile (mentally) how I want to do some things, and gotten so much more confident in my understanding of the exam and scoring the written portions.

Sure, there are moments when my eyes glaze over and I surreptitiously glance at the book I’m reading on my iPad while keeping one hand on my binder, but all in all it’s been a good experience for me so far. I’ve acquired a half-dozen textbooks, review books, and document readers (all mailed home). I’ve also gotten the prized possession: all essay questions (DBQs and FRQs) since the early 1970s. These make me incredibly happy. I’ve also created three units, although they’re much smaller chronologically than what we do in our program. Consequently, they’re not terribly useful for my purposes, but just the act of creating them has made me focus a little on the issues at hand and helped me feel confident about where I’m going.

I’ve gotten some good reinforcement that my instincts on grading are on the right track, which is also helpful. Having my mentor this year really helped with that, but there’s always that bit of nervousness as you step off on your own.

And tonight, I wrote an essay for the #5 question on this year’s FRQ. We were each tasked with one of the four essay questions at random and told to spend 5 minutes planning, 30 minutes writing, exactly as our students would. This puts us in the students’ shoes, although some of us may still have unfair advantages, like being able to type it, being fast typists, and being better at BSing than most high school juniors. Also, if you happen to get the question from the time period of your own dissertation, that may be a little bit of a gimme, too.

Even though it’s a Cold War question, I did panic a bit. It asks you to focus on Cold War foreign policies of 2 out of 3 presidents listed. I chose the 2 I knew I could do best with, but as I sat down to brainstorm I panicked a lot. All I could think of was “Korean War!” – which is a great start, but that’s about it. Happily, spending 5 minutes on the matter gave me time to come up with 4 or 5 items for each president, plus I was able to freewrite a paragraph where I could work out my ideas about comparing and contrasting the two as directed. By the time that timer went off, I was ready to go.

Tomorrow, I go before the AP grading fires. Will let you know how I do.

Sidewalks Have a Purpose

I love staying in places where you can easily walk to restaurants or shopping or the drugstore. Washington, DC, for instance, was great for that – I spent 2 weeks at a hostel and walked everywhere I needed to go, or rode the metro. Boston, NYC – other great places. But mostly, I travel with my car, so I’m definitely missing my self-transportation option this week. I decided that in the long run, it was best for my sanity to fly to Atlanta (instead of doing the 12-hour drive and adding more miles to my car). And yes, the hotel has a shuttle (it just needs to remember that it promised to pick guests up from the AP Summer Institute at certain times).

But why not walk? It turns out that this hotel’s idea of a gym is more like an April Fool’s joke. The photo looked great, but it’s something like 2.5 pieces of equipment set in a glass-enclosed passageway to the (over-chlorinated) pool and hot tub. So for today, I decided walking would be the best way to work out: upon return from the session, I grabbed my phone and plastic cards and hiked over to Target. Google Maps tells me it’s a mile away, located on the opposite side of the mall I visited yesterday. And sure, it’s about 90-something degrees out there and humid, but there are sidewalks that are going sadly unused.

I like adventures. It took about 25 minutes to get there and 28 to get back, only because i decided I’d cut through the mall for (A) air conditioning and (B) to shorten the distance (which I might not have actually done, come to think of it). And now I have fruit, sparkling water, and – most importantly – cases for my contact lenses. I managed to bring extra contacts, but not any cases to store my contacts in at night. #fail!

In the end, I’m happy to report that I’ve surpassed 10,000 steps for the day, gotten some Vitamin D and some strength training, and plan to join some other folks for dinner in 30 minutes. So far, not bad for Day 1.

Which means I should probably mention the AP Summer Institute, right? Right. It’s okay so far. Almost everyone else in the class will be teaching AP US History for the first time this fall – which I suspected, and which is a little disappointing. They all have more teaching experience than me (save one person), but I’d hoped to hear some ideas and strategies for this course in particular. But that’s the funny thing about AP Summer Institutes: I’m taking the “new teacher” version, which is designed for anyone who has taught the course for zero to three years.

The main goal so far – aside from getting everyone else’s syllabi past the College Board’s syste, a formality – is that we each have to prepare a unit. We got a list of unclaimed units, and the idea is to create a term list, 2 possible essay questions, 10 multiple choices, a DBQ, 2 primary sources, and anything else we want. No one wanted 1492-1607, so I took that.  Ironically, while everyone else is running scared from this content area that the test will start to do more with in 2 years, I feel good with it – probably because I teach Atlantic World History.

Which means that my unit is done. Tomorrow I’ll move on to the Era of Good Feeling, since I need to prep that section for my course anyway. But I confess: I finished the day a little frustrated and out of sorts (but not too badly so). I hope all these unit materials will be useful, but I really need to focus in on some things for me, which I may end up doing the rest of the week anyway.

For now, though, I relax and ignore any thought of how in the world I’ll transport all these textbooks back to MO with me…

Where the Peaches Grow

If June was the month of finishing the school year and teaching summer school, July is the month I travel. That all started today with a flight to Atlanta for an AP Summer Institute, which I’ll start tomorrow. So for now, I’m contentedly ensconced in my hotel room.

I’ve always enjoyed traveling, and I have a thing for hotel rooms. While I’m here for work purposes this week, trips like this aren’t – well, maybe they’re just not like business trips might be. I don’t feel like it’ll be a stressful week, but rather an opportunity to learn and plan and even get some downtime for myself. I have a TV to myself, a room to myself, and plenty of books to keep me company (not to mention almost every episode of Dr. Who that I own).

Yes, I promise I’ll actually do the school-related stuff. The rest is just for off-hours. Or for when I should probably be sleeping.

The hotel is lovely and has a free shuttle to the school where I’ll be all week. It was also pretty close off the MARTA line: so close that I figured I could walk the 0.7 miles between station and hotel, but my Google Mapping efforts showed me that I’d be navigating an overpass that may or may not have had a sidewalk. So last week, I called the hotel and they told me it wasn’t walkable, but I could call for the shuttle.

Of course, if you tell me it’s not walkable, I have to give it a go. I walked out of the MARTA station, made my way to the main road, and discovered a sidewalk. I figured I’d see how far it got me – and voila! The overpass is being reconstructed to include a fabulous walking/bike path, so I made it to the hotel on my own two feet. Of course, I still had to wait an hour to check in – I was technically only half an hour early, but they were having some delays with housekeeping or something. This is why books are an imperative when traveling!

Of course, once I got into the room, there’s this inevitable “What now?” sense that I always have. I didn’t feel like hopping into a book or doing anything else, and was disappointed that the room didn’t have one of those standard binders with “here’s everything you need to know about our hotel!” – I (dorkily) love those things. In lieu of that, I decided to head back out to walk to the mall (next to that MARTA station). I did a lap of the upper level, lap of the lower level, grabbed a sandwich and sodas and chips and cookies to bring back to the room (supplies!), and that was that.

I think I’m ready to settle in for the week. If you don’t see me for awhile, it’s probably got something to do with the 18 books on my ereader.

Summer: Missing Time

I’m not sure where the days have gone. Last week, it was my birthday and I was celebrating and having a grand time, then it was the weekend and now it’s Thursday and I’m nearly done teaching summer school.

I spent time yesterday trying to figure out just where my afternoons have gone in the last week and a half, and I’ve got nothin’. I know that yesterday became cleaning day, and the day before that I had a golf lesson and a dentist appointment. I think I spent a good deal of Monday afternoon grading papers.

The two full weeks of this course have flown by (the class itself began on Friday, 6/15, and ends Tuesday, 7/3). I didn’t expect that, but I’m glad of it. I’ve so enjoyed getting to know these students and hope I’ll have some of them again in the future – the sophomores look like they’ll be having a class with me at some point this year, but I don’t teach freshmen in general right now (outside of Ethics). We’ve talked about a lot of serious subjects, some fascinating subjects, and had a lot of fun. I hope they’ll look back on this as a not-too-bad way to spend part of their summer.

But I’m still not sure where my time has gone. That’s okay, I think. I originally thought I’d spend a good deal of time last week and this week prepping AP US History for the fall, but I’ve mellowed on it and come to the conclusion that keeping it in the back of my mind for now is okay. After all, I’m off to an AP institute in a week and a half anyway, so I’ll have time to be more active and focus on the topic then.

So far, I’ve been obsessed with the reading.

That was the original pile (minus the 15 – no, now 17 – Nook books I have to read). I also added in a few things after creating that stack. I don’t have an updated photo for you, but I can tell you that I’ve now read probably half of those. And I wasn’t quite sure why I was so obsessed with the reading, but I think I figured out why:

Last fall, I fell in love with reading again and made good use of the school library as my own personal reading playground. I’d walk in, find something, take it, and read it. I had a perpetual pile of books by my bedside, which meant I never quite got around to the huge piles of books I owned and PLANNED to read but hadn’t gotten to yet.

Summer became my solution: I resolved to finally read all those books I had lying around and to cut myself off from the library for the time being (we’ll ignore the fact that there are at least 6 books in the pile that ARE from the library). And now, I guess I’m on a mission.

I guess if I’m missing time, I should go look for it between the pages of some of those recently-finished titles.

Summer, Day 11: Burnt out ends


I’ve always loved my birthday. It just hasn’t always loved me. As a kid, I read this book over and over again. I’m still not convinced there’s such a thing as too many birthdays, despite what Raggedy Ann and Andy tried to tell me. Maybe it’s related to coming from a big family: when there are lots of people vying for parental attention, birthdays are pretty much the best day ever: you get presents, your choice of food, and cake/brownies/cookies/something chocolate.

Today was the last day of 32, and I’m insanely excited to usher in 33 when I wake tomorrow. And to be honest, it’s been a few years since I was this excited about celebrating.

For 32, The Spouse ditched me to play golf for work on the other side of the state, but the day turned out nicely: dinner with the Queen of Cool, the a viewing of super 8.

For 31, I was at West Point, and that was a fabulous day: dinner with 20 of my newest and closest friends, followed by plenty of amaretto sours in the lounge.

I was a mess with 30, not because it was 30 but because a friend scheduled another friend’s baby shower for the same day. It was only a year since I’d lost the baby and I was still a wreck. That loss weighed heavy on me that year as my birthday approached, but I wanted desperately to make it better. The scheduling fiasco upset me so much – I couldn’t handle the thought of attending a shower, and figured no one would want to go to a shower AND a party, not to mention that the combination of two such events with all that baggage just seemed like a recipe for weirdness. So I purposefully scheduled a research trip for that time and tried to find ways to celebrate on my own out of town.

The year I turned 29 was the year we lost the baby. I don’t yet know how to articulate the connection between my growing older and losing a baby halfway through a pregnancy, but it’s been a difficult area for me. And The Spouse and I have had a history of birthday fiascos at times, so I made sure to be away from home that year, on research. I just felt like I needed breathing space, so I created it with two weeks of east coast research and time alone.

But this year, I like to think things are different. Time helps. Being out of grad school and feeling secure in my career helps. Things are just…in balance somehow, and that’s good.

So tomorrow, I celebrate 33 years in style, rocking it in a new red dress, sharing treats with my students, taking myself out for fun, and meeting The Spouse for dinner. Throw in a few random adventures as they come my way, and I think it’ll be an awesome way to turn the page.