Women's Army Corps

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WAC Air Controller by Dan V. Smith, 1943 WAC Air Controller by Dan V. Smith.jpg
WAC Air Controller by Dan V. Smith, 1943

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 an active duty status in the Army of the United States as the WAC on 1 July 1943. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent woman in Texas society. [2] [3] The WAC was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

An auxiliary force is an organized group supplementing but not directly incorporated in a regular military or police entity. It may comprise either civilian volunteers undertaking support functions or additional personnel directly performing military or police duties, usually on a part-time basis.

The Army of the United States is one of the four major service components of the United States Army, but it has been inactive since the suspension of the draft in 1973 and the U.S. military's transition to a volunteer force. Personnel serving in the United States Army during a major national emergency or armed conflict were enlisted into the Army of the United States, without specifying service in a component.


Pallas Athene, official insignia of the U.S. Women's Army Corps WomensArmyCorpBC.gif
Pallas Athene, official insignia of the U.S. Women's Army Corps

The WAAC's organization was designed by numerous Army bureaus coordinated by Lt. Col. Gillman 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. The senate approved the bill on 14 May 1941 and became law on 15 May 1942. [5] When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill the next day, he set a recruitment goal of 25,000 women for the first year. That goal was unexpectedly exceeded, so Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson decided to increase the limit by authorizing the enlistment of 150,000 volunteers. [6]

Edith Nourse Rogers American politician

Edith Nourse Rogers was an American social welfare volunteer and politician who was an early woman to serve in the United States Congress. She was the first woman elected to Congress from Massachusetts. Until 2012, she was the longest serving Congresswoman. In her 35 years in the House of Representatives she was a powerful voice for veterans and sponsored seminal legislation, including the Servicemen's Readjustment Act of 1944, which provided educational and financial benefits for veterans returning home from World War II, the 1942 bill that created the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and the 1943 bill that created the Women's Army Corps (WAC). She was also instrumental in bringing federal appropriations to her constituency, Massachusetts's 5th congressional district.

Office of Management and Budget United States government agency

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) is the largest office within the Executive Office of the President of the United States (EOP). OMB's most prominent function is to produce the President's Budget, but OMB also measures the quality of agency programs, policies, and procedures to see if they comply with the president's policies and coordinates inter-agency policy initiatives.

The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the ATS, which caught the attention of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. [7] Members of the WAC became the first women other than nurses to serve within the United States Army. [8] 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. [9]

Auxiliary Territorial Service

The Auxiliary Territorial Service was the women's branch of the British Army during the Second World War. It was formed on 9 September 1938, initially as a women's voluntary service, and existed until 1 February 1949, when it was merged into the Women's Royal Army Corps.

Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School

The Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School was a military base and training facility on the south side of Des Moines, Iowa. Established in 1901, the base is notable as the place where African Americans were trained to be officers for the U.S. Army during World War I, and where women first began training for US Army service in 1942 as part of the Women's Army Corps. Surviving older portions of the base were declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974 in recognition of this history. The fort property was turned over to the city in the 1950s, and has since been put a number of public and private uses.

The WAAC were first trained in three major specialties. The brightest and nimblest were trained as switchboard operators. Next came the mechanics, who had to have a high degree of mechanical aptitude and problem solving ability. The bakers were usually the lowest scoring recruits and were stereotyped as being the least intelligent and able by their fellow WAACs. This was later expanded to dozens of specialties like Postal Clerk, Driver, Stenographer, and Clerk-Typist. WAC armorers maintained and repaired small arms and heavy weapons that they were not allowed to use.

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." [10] 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. [10]

United States Department of War Former US government agency

The United States Department of War, also called the War Department, was the United States Cabinet department originally responsible for the operation and maintenance of the United States Army, also bearing responsibility for naval affairs until the establishment of the Navy Department in 1798, and for most land-based air forces until the creation of the Department of the Air Force on September 18, 1947.

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. [6]

United States Army Air Forces aerial warfare branch of the United States army from 1941 to 1947

The United States Army Air Forces, informally known as the Air Force, or United States Army Air Force, was the aerial warfare service component of the United States Army during and immediately after World War II (1939/41–1945), successor to the previous United States Army Air Corps and the direct predecessor of the United States Air Force of today, one of the five uniformed military services. The AAF was a component of the United States Army, which in 1942 was divided functionally by executive order into three autonomous forces: the Army Ground Forces, the Services of Supply, and the Army Air Forces. Each of these forces had a commanding general who reported directly to the Army Chief of Staff.

About 150,000 [11] 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. [12] 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. [13]

Slander campaign

Calling WAAC... "Calling WAAC..." - NARA - 514016.jpg
Calling WAAC...

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. [14] Many soldiers ferociously opposed allowing women in uniform, warning their sisters and friends they would be seen as lesbians or prostitutes. Other sources were from other women - servicemen's and officer's wives' idle gossip, local women who disliked the newcomers taking over "their town", female civilian employees resenting the competition (for both jobs and men), charity and volunteer organizations who resented the extra attention the WAACs received, and complaints and slander spread by disgruntled or discharged WAACs. [15] All investigations showed the rumors were false. [16] [17]

African American women serving in the WAC experienced segregation in much the same fashion as in U.S. civilian life. Some billets accepted WACs of any race, while others did not. [18] Black women were taught the same specialties as white women, and the races were not segregated at specialty training schools. The US Army goal was to have 10 percent of the force be African-American, to reflect the larger U.S. population, but a shortage of recruits brought only 5.1 percent black women to the WAC. [19]


WACs operate teletype machines during World War II. WACsOperateTeletype.jpg
WACs operate teletype machines during World War II.

General Douglas MacArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers", adding that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men. [20] 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. [21] 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". [22] Nevertheless, the slander campaign hurt the reputation of the WAC and WAVES; women did not want it known they were veterans. [23]

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, United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve, and the (civil) Women Airforce Service Pilots. The British Armed Forces also had similar units, including the Women's Royal Naval Service ("Wrens"), 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. [24]


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. In 2015 Jeanne Pace, at the time the longest-tenured female warrant officer and the last former member of the WAC on active duty, retired. [25] [26] [27] She had joined the WAC in 1972. [26]

WAAC ranks

WAC Signal Corps field telephone operators, 1944 WAC Signal Corps field switchboard operators 1944.jpg
WAC Signal Corps field telephone operators, 1944

Originally there were only four enlisted (or "enrolled") WAAC ranks (auxiliary, junior leader, leader, and senior leader) and three WAC officer ranks (first, second and third officer). The Director was initially considered as equivalent to a major, then later made the equivalent of a colonel. The enlisted ranks expanded as the organization grew in size. Promotion was initially rapid and based on ability and skill. As members of a volunteer auxiliary group, the WAACs got paid less than their equivalent male counterparts in the US Army and did not receive any benefits or privileges.

WAAC organizational insignia was a Rising Eagle (nicknamed the "Waddling Duck" or "Walking Buzzard" by WAACs). It was worn in gold metal as cap badges and uniform buttons. Enlisted and NCO personnel wore it as an embossed circular cap badge on their Hobby Hats, while officers wore a "free" version (open work without a backing) on their hats to distinguish them. Their auxiliary insignia was the dark blue letters "WAAC" on an Olive Drab rectangle worn on the upper sleeve (below the stripes for enlisted ranks). WAAC personnel were not allowed to wear the same rank insignia as Army personnel. They were usually authorized to do so by post or unit commanders to help in indicating their seniority within the WAAC, although they had no authority over Army personnel.

WAAC ranks (May, 1942 – April, 1943)
Enrolled WAACUS Army
WAAC officerUS Army
Senior leaderMaster sergeantDirector of the WAACMajor
Senior leaderFirst sergeantFirst officerCaptain
LeaderTechnical sergeantSecond officer1st lieutenant
LeaderStaff sergeantThird officer2nd lieutenant
Junior leaderCorporal
Auxiliary first classPrivate first class
Auxiliary second classPrivate
Auxiliary third classRecruit
WAAC ranks (April, 1943 – July, 1943)
Enlisted WAACUS Army
WAAC officerUS Army
Chief leaderMaster sergeantDirector of the WAACColonel
First leaderFirst sergeantAssistant Director of the WAACLieutenant-colonel
Technical leaderTechnical sergeantField directorMajor
Staff leaderStaff sergeantFirst officerCaptain
LeaderSergeantSecond officer1st lieutenant
Junior leaderCorporalThird officer2nd lieutenant
Auxiliary first classPrivate first class
Auxiliary second classPrivate
Auxiliary third classRecruit

WAC ranks

Women's Army Corps anti-rumor propaganda (1941-1945) "WAAC - SILENCE MEANS SECURITY" - NARA - 515987.tif
Women's Army Corps anti-rumor propaganda (1941–1945)

The organization was renamed the Women's Army Corps in July 1943 [28] when it was authorized as a branch of the US Army rather than an auxiliary group. The US Army's "GI Eagle" now replaced the WAAC's Rising Eagle as the WAC's cap badge. The WAC received the same rank insignia and pay as men later that September and received the same pay allowances and deductions as men in late October. [29] They were also the first women officers in the army allowed to wear officer's insignia; the Army Nursing Corps didn't receive permission to do so until 1944.

The WAC had its own branch insignia (the Bust of Pallas Athena), worn by "Branch Immaterial" personnel (those unassigned to a Branch of Service). US Army policy decreed that technical and professional WAC personnel should wear their assigned Branch of Service insignia to reduce confusion. During the existence of the WAC (1943 to 1978) women were prohibited from being assigned to the combat arms branches of the Army - such as the Infantry, Cavalry, Armor, Tank Destroyers, or Artillery and could not serve in a combat area. However, they did serve as valuable staff in their headquarters and staff units stateside or in England.

The army's technician grades were technical and professional specialists similar to the later specialist grade. Technicians had the same insignia as NCOs of the same grade but had a "T" insignia (for "technician") beneath the chevrons. They were considered the same grade for pay but were considered a half-step between the equivalent pay grade and the next lower regular pay grade in seniority, rather than sandwiched between the junior enlisted (i.e., private - private first class) and the lowest NCO grade of rank (viz., corporal), as the modern-day specialist (E-4) is today. Technician grades were usually mistaken for their superior NCO counterparts due to the similarity of their insignia, creating confusion.

There were originally no warrant officers in the WAC in July, 1943. Warrant officer appointments for army servicewomen were authorized in January 1944. In March 1944 six WACs were made the first WAC Warrant Officers - as administrative specialists or band leaders. The number grew to 10 by June, 1944 and to 44 by June, 1945. By the time the war officially ended in September 1945, there were 42 WAC warrant officers still in Army service. There was only a trickle of appointments in the late 1940s after the war.

Most WAC officers were company-grade officers (lieutenants and captains), as the WAC were deployed as separate or attached detachments and companies. The field grade officers (majors and lieutenant-colonels) were on the staff under the director of the WAC, its solitary colonel. [30] Officers were paid by pay band rather than by grade or rank and didn't receive a pay grade until 1955.

WAC ranks (September, 1943 - 1945)
Pay GradeEnlisted WACMonthly payYearly payWAC officersMonthly payYearly pay
Grade 1Master sergeant$138$1656Colonel$333$4000
Grade 1First sergeant$138$1656Lieutenant colonel$291$3500
Grade 2Technical sergeant$114$1368Major$250$3000
Grade 3Staff sergeant$96$1152Captain$200$2400
Grade 3Technician 3rd grade$96$11521st lieutenant$166$2000
Grade 4Sergeant$78$9362nd lieutenant$150$1800
Grade 4Technician 4th grade$78$936Chief warrant officer$175$2100
Grade 5Corporal$66$792Warrant officer (junior grade)$150$1800
Grade 5Technician 5th grade$66$792
Grade 6Private first class$54$648
Grade 7Private$50$600

List of directors

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)

Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association

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. [31]

Notable WACs

First WAC Director Oveta Culp Hobby Hobby-Oveta-Culp.jpg
First WAC Director Oveta Culp Hobby

Lt. Col. Charity Adams was the first commissioned African-American WAC and the second to be promoted to the rank of major. Promoted to major in 1945, she commanded the segregated all-female 6888th Central Postal Battalion in Birmingham, England. The 6888th landed with the follow-on troops during D-Day and were stationed in Rouen and then Paris during the invasion of France. It was the only African-American WAC unit to serve overseas during World War II. [32]

Lt. Col. Harriet West Waddy (b.1904-d.1999 [served 1942-1952]) [33] was one of only two African-American women in the WAC to be promoted to the rank of major. Due to her earlier experience serving with director Mary McLeod Bethune of the Bureau of Negro Affairs, she became Colonel Culp's aide on race relations in the WAC. After the war, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1948.

Major Elna Jane Hilliard [served 1942–1946] commanded the 2525th WAC unit at Fort Myer, Virginia. She was the first woman to serve on a United States Army general court martial. [34]

Colonel Geraldine Pratt May (b.1895 - d.1997 [served 1942-19??). [35] In March, 1943 May became one of the first female officers assigned to the Army Air Forces, serving as WAC Staff Director to the Air Transport Command. In 1948 she was promoted to Colonel (the first woman to hold that rank in the Air Force) and became Director of the WAF in the US Air Force, the first to hold the position.

Lieutenant Colonel Florence K. Murray served at WAC headquarters during World War II. She became the first female judge in Rhode Island in 1956. In 1977 she was the first woman to be elected as a justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.

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. [36]

Sgt. Vashti R. Rutledge performed administrative work at the Army-Navy Staff College in Washington, DC. In March, 1944 WO(JG) Rutledge was one of the first six WACs to be granted a Warrant Officer's warrant.

Chief Warrant Officer 4 Elizabeth C. Smith USAF (WAC / USAAF 1944-1947, WAF / USAF 1948-1964) was one of the first WAF warrant officers in 1948.

Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Y. Pace, was the longest-serving female in the army and the last active duty soldier who was a part of the WAC as of 2011. Her final assignment was Bandmaster of the 1st Cavalry Division where she retired after 41 years of service. [37] She is also a recipient of the Daughters of the American Revolution Margaret Cochran Corbin Award which was established to pay tribute to women in all branches of the military for their extraordinary service [38] with previous recipients including Major Tammy Duckworth, Major General Gale Pollock, and Lt General Patricia Horoho.

Elizabeth "Tex" Williams was a military photographer. [39] She was one of the few women photographers that photographed all aspects of the military. [40]

See also


  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. Bellafaire 2003 , pp. 2
  6. 1 2 Bellafaire 2003 , p. 2
  7. Bernard A. Cook, Women and war: a historical encyclopedia from antiquity to the present (2006) Volume 1 p. 242
  8. Bellafaire 2003 , pp. 1
  9. Treadwell 1954 , ch 3–4
  10. 1 2 W. A. C. Field Manual Physical Training (FM 35-20). War Department, 15 July 1943. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
  11. Bellafaire 1972 , p. 2
  12. Video: American Army Women Serving On All Fronts Etc. (1944). Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  13. Treadwell 1954 , pp. 387–388
  14. 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.
  16. Treadwell 1954 , p. 184
  17. Ann Pfau, Miss Yourlovin: GIs, Gender, and Domesticity during World War II (Columbia University Press, 2008), chap. 2, online
  18. Moore, Brenda L. (1997). To Serve My Country, to Serve My Race. NYU Press. p. 79. ISBN   9780814755877.
  19. Morden, Bettie J. (1992). The Women's Army Corps, 1945-1978. p. 34. ISBN   9781105093562.
  20. Treadwell 1954 , p. 460
  21. Treadwell 1954 , pp. 95–96
  22. Treadwell 1954 , p. 408
  23. Campbell , p. 45
  24. Campbell , p. 49
  25. "Women's Army Corps veteran values support systems - The Redstone Rocket: News". The Redstone Rocket. 9 September 1971. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  26. 1 2 "Longest-serving female warrant to retire after 43 years". Armytimes.com. 9 July 2015. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  27. 25 July 2015. "Trooper reflects on 43 years of selfless service - Fort Hood Herald: Across The Fort". Kdhnews.com. Retrieved 25 July 2015.
  28. Public Law 78-110 (signed into law on 3 July 1943)
  29. Servicemen's Allowance Act of 1942, amendment of 25 October 1943.
  30. Mrs. Hobby received the commissioned rank of colonel in the US Army on 5 July 1943
  31. "Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association - Army Women United". www.armywomen.org. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  32. History, U.S. Army Center of Military. "6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion | Center of Military History". www.history.army.mil. Retrieved 17 April 2016.
  33. "Military and Veteran Benefits, News, Veteran Jobs". military.com. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  34. "Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM". www.nwhm.org. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 5 August 2015.
  35. "Geraldine Pratt May". defense.gov. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  36. "Interview with Ellen Bryan Moore". T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. September – October 1995. Archived from the original on 26 May 2010.
  37. "[served 1972-2013". army.mil. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  38. "Band commander receives award". army.mil. Retrieved 29 March 2018.
  39. 1969-, Ellis, Jacqueline, (1998). Silent witnesses : representations of working-class women in the United States. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press. ISBN   9780879727444. OCLC   36589970.
  40. The reader's companion to U.S. women's history. Mankiller, Wilma Pearl, 1945-2010. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1998. ISBN   9780395671733. OCLC   47009823.CS1 maint: others (link)

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Primary sources

Further reading