On this day in 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps is created. For the first time, women would be allowed to serve with the Army.
Wait. What? Didn’t women serve as nurses and volunteers during World War I?
Yes, they did, but that’s all they were: volunteers. Women had never been granted any official Army status. You can imagine that such a situation was beginning to create difficulties. Soldiers were given food, lodging, and medical care, but women were left to handle such matters on their own. Perhaps worst of all, women were not provided the same protection as soldiers if they were captured by the enemy.
Something had to be done! At the urging of Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers, Army officials agreed to a compromise. The Army still didn’t want female soldiers, but it agreed to the creation of an auxiliary corps that could work with the Army. Just then, the shock of Pearl Harbor finally pushed Congress into action. Rogers’s bill was approved. The nation was at war! Women finally had an official status in the Army and some (but not all) of the benefits offered to regular soldiers.
FDR signed the measure on May 15, 1942.
The WAAC was to “mak[e] available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training” of women. It was thought that women could free up more men for combat by taking over support duties. Recruitment efforts sometimes featured the invitation to “release a man for combat.” FDR hoped to recruit 25,000 women, but his expectations were greatly exceeded. In fact, recruitment efforts were so successful that four additional training centers were opened to accommodate those who wanted to join.
The Director of the WAAC was Oveta Culp Hobby, the wife of a former Texas Governor. It was a tough job, but she was one tough lady! Unfortunately, leading the WAAC was harder than a modern woman might hope: The Army was not always happy to be working with the WAAC. Nor was the public always understanding of a woman who wanted to be in the military. But Hobby and the WAAC persevered—and they proved themselves.
When the WAAC was first created, women were authorized to do only 54 types of Army tasks. Maybe you won’t be surprised to hear that they were limited to jobs such as clerks, typists, cooks, and drivers? By the time Hobby resigned, women were authorized to perform nearly 240 different military jobs! Better yet, they were able to enter specialist positions, such as cryptographers, medical technicians, and control tower specialists. Some women even worked on the Manhattan Project.
In July 1943, new legislation was approved. The WAAC was converted into the Women’s Army Corps. The WAC was still a separate unit, but now it was a part of the U.S. Army Reserves. Women would receive all the benefits given to male soldiers, including overseas pay, death benefits, and veterans’ medical benefits. Moreover, women’s ranks also became more equitable with those of the men. Hobby herself had been a Major in the WAAC. Now she was a Colonel in the WAC.
Eventually, about 150,000 women would serve in the WAAC and the WAC during World War II. Over 600 medals of distinction were awarded to these women. Not too long after the war, President Harry Truman signed a bill that allowed women to enter the U.S. Army in “regular army status.”
Perhaps women knew more about their own abilities than the Army did? 😉
- Bettie J. Morden, The Women’s Army Corps, 1945–1978 (U.S. Army Center of Military History publication; 1990)
- Biography: Oveta Culp Hobby (Texas State Historical Association website)
- Creation of the Women’s Army Corps (U.S. Army website)
- History of the Women’s Army Corps (Women’s Army Corps Veterans’ Association website)
- Judith A. Bellafaire, The Women’s Army Corps: A Commemoration of World War II Service (U.S. Army Center of Military History publication; 1993)
- Mattie E. Treadwell, The Women’s Army Corps (U.S. Army Center of Military History publication; 1991)