World War II : Women's Army Corps
Women and the War  |  Women's Army Corps  |  Marine Corps (WR)

Women's Place in War Poster
  World War II Army recruiting poster advertising 239 kinds of jobs for women.  

Beginning in Oct. 1940, men between 21 and 35 were drafted for military service. The United States declared war on Japan on Dec. 8, 1941, in retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, HI, and on Dec. 11 the United States declared war on Japan's allies, Germany and Italy. The draft was extended to include men aged 18-38, and in 1942 the upper age limit was extended to age 45. As their husbands, sons and brothers left home, many American women asked, “what about us?” Acting as their spokeswoman, Massachusetts Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers introduced a bill in May 1941 calling for the creation of an all-volunteer women's corps in the Army.

Initially, members of Congress, the press and the military establishment joked about the notion of women serving in the Army, but as America increasingly realized the demands of a war on two fronts (Japan and Germany), leaders also faced an acute manpower shortage. In May 1942, the House and the Senate approved a bill creating the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Oveta Culp Hobby, Chief of the Women's Interest Section in the Public Relations Bureau at the War Department and a lobbyist for the WAAC bill, became its first director. Although the women who joined considered themselves in the Army, technically they were civilians working with the Army. By the spring of 1943, 60,000 women had volunteered and in July 1943, a new congressional bill transformed the WAAC to the Women's Army Corps (WAC), giving Army women military status.

WACs at Ft. Des Moine, IA
 
WAC training class at Ft. Des Moines, IA.
 

The Army opened five WAAC/WAC training centers and in July 1942, the first group of 440 women officer candidates (40 of whom were African-American) and 330 enlisted women began training at Ft. Des Moines, IA. Uniform supply was inadequate but it did not deter training. Except for weapons and tactical training, the women's courses paralleled those for Army men, as did their training circumstances. One WAC later remembered her basic training:

Uniform distribution at Ft. Des Moines
  Uniform distribution at Ft. Des Moines, IA.  

One officer wrote:

In late 1942, WAACs began deploying overseas. Five WAAC officers had a harrowing experience en route to reporting for duty at Allied Headquarters in Algiers, North Africa. The troop ship on which they traveled from England to North Africa was torpedoed by a German U-boat in the North Atlantic. A British destroyer came to the rescue and saved the women officers and other survivors of the burning, sinking ship and delivered them safely to Oran, Algeria. They lost uniforms, cosmetics and personal items and were smeared with oil and grit, but the welcoming party at the port brought oranges, toothbrushes and emergency items. Within a few days they were at work in Allied Headquarters. As the war continued, most overseas assignments were to the European Theater of Operations and over 8,300 served in England, France, Germany and Italy. Others deployed to the Pacific and the Far East.

 

Members of the Signal Corps set up communications systems overseas.

 

Women performed their duties like seasoned troopers—even amid unhealthy and uncomfortable conditions. One women stationed in the Philippines explained:

GEN Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Allied Commander, was among high-ranking officers praising the women. GEN MacArthur "praised the WACS highly, calling them 'my best soldiers,' and alleged that they worked harder than men, complained less and were better disciplined."