Congress treated the proposed conscription of nurses as one more emergency expansion of women in the military. On Jan. 9, three days after Roosevelt’s speech, Rep. Andrew J. May (D-Ky.) introduced a bill that made nurses eligible for the draft, subject to the same exemptions as men. He opened hearings on the subject before the Committee on Military Affairs with the heartfelt statement that “it is hard to draft women” and a complaint that the War Department had waited until the matter was urgent to bring it to the attention of Congress.
The hearings focused on whether there was actually a shortage of nurses, who was to blame for it (with a certain amount of finger-pointing and backside-covering among the War Department, the American Red Cross, public health officers and various nursing organizations) and whether it was constitutional to draft members of a specific profession.
Beyond the repeated refrain that it was “hard to draft women,” no one discussed the underlying question of whether women should be drafted at all. When Rep. Clare Boothe Luce (R-Conn.) tried to amend the bill to make all women subject to conscription, the change was rejected — a clear indication that the proposed conscription of nurses was intended to serve a defined need rather than advance a matter of principle. Rep. R. Ewing Thomason (D-Tex.), who chaired several sessions of the hearings, summed up the situation when he stated that such a bill “would not survive 10 minutes on the floor but for the tragic present need.”