On this day in 1942, Congress approves lowering the draft age to 18 and raising the upper limit to age 37.
In September 1940, Congress, by wide margins in both houses, passed the Burke-Wadsworth Act, and the first peacetime draft was imposed in the history of the United States. The registration of men between the ages of 21 and 36 began exactly one month later. There were some 20 million eligible young men—50 percent were rejected the very first year, either for health reasons or because 20 percent of those who registered were illiterate.
But by November 1942, with the United States now a participant in the war, and not merely a neutral bystander, the draft ages had to be expanded; men 18 to 37 were now eligible. Blacks were passed over for the draft because of racist assumptions about their abilities and the viability of a mixed-race military. But this changed in 1943, when a “quota” was imposed, meant to limit the numbers of blacks drafted to reflect their numbers in the overall population, roughly 10.6 percent of the whole. Initially, blacks were restricted to “labor units,” but this too ended as the war progressed, when they were finally used in combat.
By war’s end, approximately 34 million men had registered; 10 million had been inducted into the military.