Women's Army Corps

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For the Canadian women's branch of the Canadian Army, see Canadian Women's Army Corps.
WAC Air Controller by Dan V. Smith, 1943.
WAC Signal Corps field telephone operators, 1944
Women's Army Corps anti-rumor propaganda (1941–1945)

The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the women's branch of the United States Army. It was created as an auxiliary unit, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on 15 May 1942 by Public Law 554,[1] and converted to full status as the WAC on 1 July 1943. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent society woman in Texas.[2][3]

History[edit]

The WAAC's organization was designed by numerous Army bureaus coordinated by Lt. Col. Gilman C. Mudgett, the first WAAC Pre-Planner; however, nearly all of his plans were discarded or greatly modified before going into operation because he expected a corps of only 11,000 women.[4] Without the support of the War Department, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill on 28 May 1941, providing for a women’s army auxiliary corps. The bill was held up for months by the Bureau of the Budget but was resurrected after the United States entered the war and became law on 15 May 1942. A section authorizing the enlistment of 150,000 volunteers was temporarily limited by executive order to 25,000.[5]

The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the ATS, which caught the attention of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.[6] In 1942, the first contingent of 800 members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps began basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School, Iowa. The women were fitted for uniforms, interviewed, assigned to companies and barracks and inoculated against disease during the first day.[7]

Pallas Athene, official insignia of the U.S. Women's Army Corps
Calling WAAC...
WACs operate teletype machines during World War II.

A physical training manual titled "You Must Be Fit" was published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the women recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by naming the responsibility of the women: "Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over."[8] It cited the commitment of women to the war effort in England, Russia, Germany and Japan, and emphasized that the WAC recruits must be physically able to take on any job assigned to them. The fitness manual was state-of-the-art for its day, with sections on warming up, and progressive body-weight strength-building exercises for the arms, legs, stomach, and neck and back. It included a section on designing a personal fitness routine after basic training, and concluded with "The Army Way to Health and Added Attractiveness" with advice on skin care, make-up, and hair styles.[8]

Inept publicity and the poor appearance of the WAAC/WAC uniform, especially in comparison to that of the other services, handicapped recruiting efforts. A resistance by senior Army commanders was overcome by the efficient service of WAACs in the field, but the attitude of men in the rank and file remained generally negative and hopes that up to a million men could be replaced by women never materialized. The United States Army Air Forces became an early and staunch supporter of regular military status for women in the Army.[5]

About 150,000[9] American women eventually served in the WAAC and WAC during World War II. They were the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army.[10] While conservative opinion in the leadership of the Army and public opinion generally was initially opposed to women serving in uniform, the shortage of men necessitated a new policy. While most women served stateside, some went to various places around the world, including Europe, North Africa, and New Guinea. For example, WACs landed on Normandy Beach just a few weeks after the initial invasion.[11]

Slander campaign[edit]

In 1943 the recruiting momentum stopped and went into reverse as a massive slander campaign on the home front challenged the Wacs as sexually immoral.[12] Many soldiers ferociously opposed allowing women in uniform, warning their sisters and friends they would be seen as lesbians or prostitutes. Their lewd humor and snide comments betrayed a fear that if women became soldiers they would no longer serve in a masculine preserve and their masculinity would be devalued.[13] Other men, seeing the posters that called on women to volunteer in order to "Free a Man to Fight" feared being sent into combat units if women took the safe jobs. All investigations showed the rumors were false, but they had originated with American soldiers, not with enemy agents.[14][15]

Evaluations[edit]

General Douglas MacArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers", adding that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men.[16] Many generals wanted more of them and proposed to draft women but it was realized that this "would provoke considerable public outcry and Congressional opposition", and so the War Department declined to take such a drastic step.[17] Those 150,000 women who did serve released the equivalent of 7 divisions of men for combat. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable".[18] Nevertheless the slander campaign hurt the reputation of the WAC and WAVES; women did not want it known they were veterans.[19]

During the same time period, other branches of the U.S. military had similar women's units, including the Navy WAVES, the SPARS of the Coast Guard, and the (civil) Women Airforce Service Pilots. The British Armed Forces also had similar units, including the Auxiliary Territorial Service and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

According to historian D'Ann Campbell, American society was not ready for women in military roles:

The WAC and WAVES had been given an impossible mission: they not only had to raise a force immediately and voluntarily from a group that had no military traditions, but also had overcome intense hostility from their male comrades. The situation was highly unfavorable: the women had no clear purpose except to send men to the battlefront; duties overlapped with civilian employees and enlisted male coworkers, causing confusion and tension; and the leadership cadre was unprestigious, inexperienced, and had little control over women, none over men. Although the military high command strongly endorsed their work, there were no centers of influence in the civilian world, either male or female, that were committed to the success of the women's services, and no civilian institutions that provided preliminary training for recruits or suitable positions for veterans. Wacs, Waves, Spars and women Marines were war orphans whom no one loved.[20]

Disbanded[edit]

The WAC as a branch was disbanded in 1978 and all female units were integrated with male units. Women serving as WACs at that time converted in branch to whichever Military Occupational Specialty they worked in. Since then, women in the US Army have served in the same units as men, though they have only been allowed in or near combat situations since 1994 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered the removal of "substantial risk of capture" from the list of grounds for excluding women from certain military units.

List of Directors[edit]

Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby   (1942–1945)
Colonel Westray Battle Boyce   (1945–1947)
Colonel Mary A. Hallaren   (1947–1953)
Colonel Irene O. Galloway   (1953–1957)
Colonel Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson   (1957–1962)
Colonel Emily C. Gorman   (1962–1966)
Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington   (1966–1971)
Brigadier General Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey   (1971–1975)
Brigadier General Mary E. Clarke   (1975–1978)
First WAC Director Oveta Kulp Hobby

Louisiana Register of State Lands Ellen Bryan Moore attained the rank of captain in the WACs and once recruited three hundred women at a single appeal to join the force.[21]

Popular culture[edit]

Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association[edit]

The Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association was organized to serve those who have served honorably with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, The Women's Army Corps, or those who have served or are serving honorably in the United States Army, the United States Army Reserve or the Army National Guard of the United States. [22]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Moore, Brenda. (1996). To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race. New York: New York University Press.
  2. ^ Treadwell 1954, pp. 28–30
  3. ^ Meyer 1996, pp. 16–18
  4. ^ Treadwell 1954, pp. 26–28
  5. ^ a b Craven & Cate 1953, p. xxxvi
  6. ^ Bernard A. Cook, Women and war: a historical encyclopedia from antiquity to the present (2006) Volume 1 p. 242
  7. ^ Treadwell & 1954 ch 3–4
  8. ^ a b W. A. C. Field Manual Physical Training" (FM 35-20). War Department, 15 July 1943. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
  9. ^ Bellafaire 1972, p. 2
  10. ^ Video: American Army Women Serving On All Fronts Etc. (1944). Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  11. ^ Treadwell 1954, pp. 387–388
  12. ^ Leisa D. Meyer (1998). Creating G. I. Jane: Sexuality and Power in the Women's Army Corps During World War II. Columbia University Press. pp. 33–51. 
  13. ^ Campbell, ch 1
  14. ^ Treadwell 1954, p. 184
  15. ^ Ann Pfau, Miss Yourlovin: GIs, Gender, and Domesticity during World War II (Columbia University Press, 2008), chap. 2, online
  16. ^ Treadwell 1954, p. 460
  17. ^ Treadwell 1954, pp. 95–96
  18. ^ Treadwell 1954, p. 408
  19. ^ Campbell, p 45
  20. ^ Campbell, p 49
  21. ^ "Interview with Ellen Bryan Moore". T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. September–October 1995. 
  22. ^ http://www.armywomen.org/aboutUs.shtml

Bibliography[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]