United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve
The United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve (WR) was the World War II women's branch of the US Marine Corps Reserve. It was authorized by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 30 July 1942. Yet, the Marine Corps delayed the formation of the WR until 13 February 1943. This law allowed the Marine Corps to accept women into the reserve as commissioned officers and at the enlisted level, effective for the duration of the war plus six months. Its purpose was to release officers and men for combat and to replace them with women in shore stations. Ruth Cheney Streeter was appointed the first director of the WR. She was sworn in with the rank of major and later was promoted to a full colonel. Streeter attended Bryn Mawr College and had been involved in health and welfare work. The WR did not have an official nickname, as did the other World War II women's military services.
At the out-break of World War II, the notion of women serving in the Navy or Marine Corps (both under the jurisdiction of the Department of the Navy) was not widely supported by the congress or by the branches of the military services. Nevertheless, there were some who believed that women would eventually be needed in the military. The most notable was Edith Nourse Rogers, Representative of Massachusetts, and Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the president, who helped pave the way for its reality. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed what would become Public Law 689 on 30 July 1942, it established a Women’s Reserve as a branch of the Naval Reserve for the Navy and Marine Corps. The idea behind the law was to free-up officers and men for combat, with women standing-in for them at shore stations on the home front. Women could now serve in the WR as an officer or at an enlisted level, with a rank or rating consistent with that of men. WR volunteers could only serve for the duration of the war, plus six months. But the Corps saw fit to delay formation of the WR until 13 February 1943. It was the last service branch to accept women into its ranks, and “there was considerable unhappiness about making the Marine Corps anything but a club for white men”. In fact, General Thomas Holcomb, Commandant of the Marine Corps was a well-known opponent of women serving in the corps. But he later reversed himself, saying, “there’s hardly any work at our Marine stations that women can’t do as well as men. They do some work far better than men. … What is more, they’re real Marines. They don’t have a nickname, and they don’t need one.” Holcomb rejected all acronyms or monikers for the WR; he did not believe they were compulsorily. And there were many of them, including: Femarines, WAMS, Dainty Devil-Dogs, Glamarines, Women’s Leatherneck-Aides, MARS, and Sub-Marines. By the summer of 1943, attempts to pressure the WR into a nickname had diminished. WR was as far as Holcomb would move in that direction.
Ruth Cheney Streeter
Mrs. Ruth Cheney Streeter was named the first director of the WR; commissioned a major and sworn in by the Secretary of the Navy on 29, January 1943. A year later, Streeter was promoted to colonel. She was not the first woman to see active duty in the Marine Corps during World War II. Weeks earlier, Mrs. Anne A. Lentz, a civilian clothing expert who had helped design the WR uniforms, was commissioned a captain. Lentz came to the corps on a 30-day assignment from the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and stayed on. Streeter was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1895 and attended Bryn Mawr College for two years. She was the wife of a prominent (Morristown, NJ) lawyer and businessman, and the mother of four children; three sons in the military in World War II and a younger daughter. Although Streeter had 20 years of active civic work, she had never held a paying job. She was selected from a field of 12 outstanding women, all recommended to the corps by Dean Virigina C. Gildersleeve of Barnard College, who had earlier recommended Mildred McAfee for the director of the WAVES, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services. Streeter was 47 years of age when selected to head the WR. She was described as confident, spirited, patriotic, and a principled person, qualities she had demonstrated. In 1940, she believed the United States would be drawn into World War II. Intending to be part of the war effort, Streeter learned to fly, earned a commercial pilots license and bought a small airplane. And in the summer of 1941, she joined the Civil Air Patrol. Although her plane was used to fly missions, she was, unhappily, relegated to doing … “all the dirty work’’. Then, when the Women’s Air Service Pilots (WASP) was formed, Streeter was 12 years over the age limit, but applied five times and was rejected five times. In January 1943, she inquired about service with the WAVES, flying was out of the question but told she could be a ground instructor. Streeter turned it down, and a month later became the director of the WR. During her tenure as the director, she sent an open letter to all women recruits, saying, ‘’It is not easy to Free a Marine to Fight (a recruiting slogan of the WR). It takes courage-the courage to embark on a new and an alien way of life…. Your spirit is a source of constant inspiration to all who work with you’’. Colonel Streeter resigned her commission from the WR 7 December 1945. A few months later, the Marine Corps presented her with the Legion of Merit. It was the highest award made to a woman marine as a result of World War II service to this time. The Marine Corps also dedicated the headquarters building of the Fourth Recruit Training Battalion at Paris Island to her. Ruth Chaney Streeter died 9 September 1990, two days before her 95th birthday.
The qualifications for women who wished to become members of the WR were quite rigid. The eligibility requirements for officer candidates and enlisted women were similar: United States citizenship; not married to a marine; either single or married but with no children under 18; height not less than 60 inches; weight not less than 95 pounds; good vision and good teeth. For enlisted, the age limits were from 20 to 35, and an applicant was required to have at least two years of high school. For officer candidates, the age limits were from 20 to 49, either a college graduate, or a combination of two years of college and two years of work experience. Later, the wives of enlisted marines were allowed to join, and enlisted women could marry after boot camp.
By way of agreement, the Navy and the Marine Corps designated the Navy’s procurement offices as recruiting centers for both the Navy’s WAVES and the WR. This helped to avoid competition in the recruiting of women for either naval service. Women applicants for either service would go to one office to enlist and to receive physical examinations. (Later on, the WR established its own recruiting capability.) When reservations surfaced about whether male, marine recruiters could properly select female applicants for the WR, the call went out for women recruiters. Nineteen WAVE officer candidates volunteered; they were transferred and assigned to procurement offices’. Still in WAVE uniforms, they began recruiting the first members of the WR. Lucile E. McClarren of Nemacolm, Pennsylvania, appears to have been the first enlisted women recruited. The WR did not accept African American women or Japanese American women during the war years. The first Native American woman to enlist in the WR was Minnie Spotted-Wolf of Heart Butte, Montana. Early recruiting was brisk, so much so that, in some cases, women were sworn in and put to work in procurement offices, delaying their training until later.
The slogan,"Free a Marine to Fight" proved to be a strong drawing card for the WR, stronger than any fashioned by the WAC, Waves, or SPARS. Young women were eager to serve in the military during World War II, often in defiance of their family’s wishes. Marian Bauer’s parents were so upset when she joined the corps that they did not see her off. Jane Tailor’s father, a World War I veteran, gave her this advice, ‘‘Don’t ever complain to me. You’re doing this of your own free will. You weren’t drafted or forced. Now, go – learn, travel, and do your job to the best of your ability’’. And there were those parents who asked special consideration for daughters who were too young to enlist. The minimum age of 20 years, set by law, remained the same throughout the war for the WR. Some parents wondered why 18 year boys were sent into combat and 18 year old girls could not even serve. Aside from patriotism, Colonel Streeter was interested to learn the reasons why young women joined the WR. A survey of 1,000 new enlistees was conducted at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, which asked this question. The results of this survey showed the 750 enlistees had positive reasons for enlisting. Some had male relatives or friends in the armed forces, some wanted revenge against the enemy, while others wanted the experience it would bring to their lives. The remaining 250 acknowledged they were trying to escape from something: a bad home life, a broken marriage, boredom, or some personal disappointment. Indications were that Streeter was not displeased with the findings. The WR met its recruitment goal by 1 June 1944, and then stopped all recruiting. It began again on 20 September 1944, but on a limited basis. The peak strength was 17,640 enlisted and 820 officers.
The first group of six women officers recruited was given direct commissions in the WR. They were recruited for their abilities and civilian experiences; considered key to the success of the fledging program.
- Public relations: First Lieutenant E. Louise Stewart;
- Training: Captain Charlotte D. Gower;
- Classification and detail: Captain Cornelia D. T. Williams;
- West Coast activities: Captain Lillian O’Malley Daly (who had been a marine in WW I);
- Recruit depot: Captain Katherine Towle;
- Assistant to Director: Captain Helen C. O'Neill.
These women were assigned to active duty immediately, without any military training or formal indoctrination in the corps.
The wardrobe of the WR was a matter of genuine importance to the Marine Corps, so much so that a circular released in late 1943 stated the following:
- The Marine Corps wants you to look your best at all times. The uniforms you will wear have been designed to be comfortable, practical and extremely attractive. When you don them you will know the pride of wearing a uniform that is a symbol of valor and bravery everywhere.
WR recruits were promised uniforms upon reaching boot camp, but that was not always the case. In fact, during the summer of 1943, some boots had to train in civilian clothing until uniforms were available. On arrival, they turned out to be winter uniforms. The seersucker summer uniforms had yet to be designed. Disputes about fabric, cut, and production had a delaying affect upon delivery. In time, these issues were resolved, and most WR members felt their uniforms were much better looking than that of the other women’s military organizations.
The winter service uniform for both WR officers and enlisted was designed along the lines of the men’s uniform. It was a forest green and consisted of a skirt, no higher than the bottom of the kneecap, and an unbelted jacket with three bronze buttons, a green cap trimmed with a scarlet cord. Marine Corps emblems were placed on the cap and on the uniform lapels; scarlet chevrons were sewn on the jacket’s sleeves. Under the jacket, a khaki shirt and matching field scarf was worn. Added to the ensemble were dark brown gloves, shoulder bag, and shoes. For inclement weather, there was a green overcoat or a Khaki trench coat, a red muffler, and black boots, or rubbers. Neither officers or enlisted had dress uniforms. Although, officers were able to modify their winter service uniform into a dress uniform, by substituting a white shirt and forest green tie in place of the regular khaki. The enlisted members were without such freedom.
The summer service uniform was a two-piece green and white outfit, made of washable, seersucker material. It had two pieces, a skirt and a short-sleeved jacket with a V-neck. The cap was green and decorated with a white cord, buttons were white, chevrons were green, and emblems were bronze. The shoes were brown, the gloves were white, and the handbags were light green. The summer dress uniform was made of white twill. It had short sleeves and a V-neck, worn with gilt buttons on the jacket and cap, with dress emblems and white pumps. The Officers could choose between three summer dress uniforms. The first was the white one worn by enlisted women, but with added green shoulder straps. The other two were made of white twill or palm -beach material. One, was a short- sleeved blouse, and the other was long sleeved and collarless.
Slacks of covert material were worn for certain duties, although the most common work uniform was the olive-drab, cotton utility outfit, worn with high topped shoes. The trousers had a bib-front, crossed straps, and were worn over a short sleeve, matching shirt, and topped by a long sleeve jacket. For recreation, field nights, and physical conditioning, women Marines wore the peanut suit, so called because of its colored appearance. It was a tan, seersucker, one-piece bloomer outfit, with ties at the bottom of the shorts. In keeping with the propriety of the times, the women covered their legs with a front-buttoned A-lined skirt when not actively engaged in sports, exercises or work details.
Mount Holyoke College
The WR officer candidates first trained at the Navy’s Midshipmen School for women officers, located at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts, later branching out to nearby Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley. On 13 March 1943, the first group of 71 Marine officer candidates arrived at the Midshipmen’s School, Mount Holyoke College. Officer candidates joined as privates and after four weeks, if successful, became officer cadets. Those who did not meet the requirements had two choices; transfer to enlisted basic training or await discharge. Cadets who completed the eight-week course, but were not recommended for a commission were asked to resign. They were eventually discharged and allowed to join the enlisted ranks. The curriculum for officer candidates was the same as for the WAVES, except for drill, which was taught by Marine Drill Instructors (A Drill Instructor, a non-commissioned officer, provides instruction and indoctrination in the training of officer candidates and enlisted recruits). Candidates studied naval organization and administration, naval personnel, naval history and strategy, naval law and justice, and ships and aircraft. The second part of the training was specifically on Marine Corps subjects taught by male Marines. It included Marine Corps administration and courtesy, map reading, interior guard, safeguarding military information, and physical conditioning. On 4 May 1943, members of the first class received their commissions in the Marine Corps. A total of 214 women Marine Corps officers completed training at Mount Holyoke college.
Shortly after the first officer class reported to Mount Holyoke College, enlisted women of the WR were ordered to the US Naval Training School at Hunter College in the Bronx, New York City. Between 24 March and 26 March, 722 recruits arrived for training. On 26 March, 21 platoons of women Marines began training with the WAVES and graduated on 25 April 1943. Because the school was designated for WAVE instruction, the curriculum was geared for the Navy. Some subjects were not relative for Marines, so modifications were made and Marine Drill Instructors were added. Training sessions included drill, physical training, and lectures on customs and courtesies, history and organization, administration, naval law, map reading, defense against air attack, identification of aircraft, and safeguarding military information. Between March and July, 3,346 women trained at Hunter College and 3,280 of them graduated.
Originally, the Marine Corps planned to use existing Navy facilities for all of the WR training, but soon realized the advantage of having its own training schools. Although joint training with the Navy proved satisfactory, it did not engender the famed Marine esprit de corps that was expected. Consequently, Marine Headquarters decided to consolidate all WR training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. The Marine Corps opened its own schools for officer candidates and recruit training at Camp Lejeune in July 1943, under command of Colonel John M. Arthur. Officer candidates and recruits in training at Navy facilities were transferred to Camp Lejeune, where nearly 19,000 women became Marines during the remainder of World War II.  The camp was named for John A. Lejeune (1867-1942), a distinguished Marine officer. The 200 square mile area was completed in 1943, with a headquarters building and facilities for transient and permanent Marine Corps personnel. At Lejeune, the curriculum for both officer candidates and enlisted recruits moved beyond classroom lectures on combat weapons to actual weapon demonstrations. WR personnel observed demonstrations in hand-to-hand combat, use of mortars, bazookas, flame-throwers, an assortment of guns, and landing craft.
Leaving the college campuses for the Camp Lejeune training center was a change, but it introduced the officer candidates and recruits to the real Marine Corps military environment. What had not changed from the time at Mount Holyoke and Hunter was the shoddy behavior of the Drill Instructors towards the women. At Lejeune they did not try to hide their resentment, often referring to the women as BAMS (Broad Assed Marines) and using other crude references.  In the early days of the WR, the women were the focus of considerable verbal and psychological abuse. This took its toll on the WR and its director, causing General Holcomb (Commandant of the Marine Corps) to take steps to end it. In time the open hostilities subsided, and before long the women’s competence, self-assurance, sharp-appearance, and pride won over many of their detractors.
The women were assigned to over 200 different jobs, among them: radio operator, photographer, parachute rigger, driver, aerial gunnery instructor, cook, baker, quartermaster, control tower operator, motion picture operator, auto mechanic, telegraph operator, cryptographer, laundry operator, post exchange manager, stenographer, and agriculturist. They would serve as the trained nucleus for possible mobilization emergencies. The demobilization of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve of 820 officers and 17,640 enlisted was to be completed by 1 September 1946. Of the 20,000 women who had joined the Marine Corps during World War II, only 1,000 remained in the Marine Corps Women's Reserve on 1 July 1946.
In 1950, the Women Marine Corps Reserves mobilized for the Korean War and 2,787 women were called to active duty. By the height of the Vietnam War, about 2,700 women had served both stateside and overseas. By 1975, the Marine Corps had approved the assignment of women to all occupational fields, except the infantry, artillery, armor, and pilot-air crew. Over 1,000 women were deployed in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990–1991.
- 1945—First detachment of women Marines arrives in Hawaii for duty.
- 1947—First female warrant officer in the Corps — Lotus Mort
- 1948 – President Harry Truman signs Public Law 625 (the Women's Armed Services Integration Act) on June 30, 1948. It incorporates the women's service organizations, like the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, into the regular military on a permanent basis. Colonel Katherine A. Towle was declared the first Director of Women Marines.
- 1948 – First group of women sworn into the regular Marine Corps.
- 1960 – First woman Marine is promoted to E-9 — Master Gunnery Sergeant, Geraldine M. Moran.
- 1961 – The first woman Marine is promoted to Sergeant Major (E-9) — Bertha Peters Billeb.
- SPARS (United States Coast Guard Women's Reserve)
- WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service)
- WASP - Women Airforce Service Pilots
- Women in the Air Force (WAF)
- Women in the United States Navy
- Women's Army Corps (United States Army)
- Women's Auxiliary Air Force (British)
- Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service
- Women's Royal Naval Service (British) "Wrens"
- Women's Royal Australian Naval Service
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- "History of the Women Marines". Women Marines Association. Archived from the original on 2017-01-14. Retrieved 2017-01-14.
- National Archives and Records Administration, Paula Nassen Pouls, Editor. (1996). A Women's War Too: U.S. Women in the military in World War II. United States: National Archives Tust Fund Board. ISBN 1-880875-098.
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Media related to United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve at Wikimedia Commons