20 facts about the Women’s Army Corps

Compiled by Elizabeth M. Collins, Soldiers, Defense Media Activity
  1. Congresswomen Edith Nourse Rogers proposed legislation for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, May 14, 1941. Having witnessed the status of women in World War I, particularly the Signal Corps’ Hello Girls, Rogers vowed that if American women ever served again, it would be with all the rights and benefits afforded to Soldiers.

    As a part of their training for overseas service, WACs climb down a cargo net at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, during World War II. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

    As a part of their training for overseas service, WACs climb down a cargo net at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, during World War II. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

  2. The Army began admitting women as auxiliaries with relative ranks like third officer for second lieutenant and leader for sergeant in the summer of 1942. About 35,000 applicants applied for the first 1,000 positions in the WAAC.
  3. Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby served as the first director of the WAAC and the Women’s Army Corps. She was the only WAC to receive the Distinguished Service Medal during World War II, and later became secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (now the Department of Health and Human Services).
  4. The first WAAC uniforms were made up according to size charts created by large mail order companies. Women were outfitted from the skin out, including bras, girdles, stockings, gloves and handkerchiefs.

    The first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps uniforms. The uniform on the left is a dark-and-light olive drab officers’ uniform. The center uniform is a khaki, summer-weight officers’ uniform issued to the first detachment of WAACs at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in the summer of 1942. The uniform on the right is a winter wool, olive drab enlisted uniform. All three of the original designs carried a belt, but it was eliminated in October 1942. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum)

    The first Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps uniforms. The uniform on the left is a dark-and-light olive drab officers’ uniform. The center uniform is a khaki, summer-weight officers’ uniform issued to the first detachment of WAACs at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in the summer of 1942. The uniform on the right is a winter wool, olive drab enlisted uniform. All three of the original designs carried a belt, but it was eliminated in October 1942. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum)

  5. The WAAC physical training uniform was a knee-length, one-piece dress with separate bloomers made of green-and-white seersucker.
  6. Soon after invading North Africa in November 1942, Lt. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower requested five WAACs, who would serve as executive secretaries. Their ship was torpedoed en route. A British destroyer rescued two of the women from the sinking ship. The other three escaped in a lifeboat, rescuing several seamen along the way.
  7. As auxiliaries, WAACs deployed without the same benefits as Soldiers. If injured, they might not receive the same care. If captured, they could not expect the same rights and protections.

    WACs arrive in Caserta, Italy, Nov. 17, 1943. They served Fifth Army as telephone operators, clerks, typists, stenographers, cooks and other cadre. They followed the Fifth Army up the peninsula, usually located from 12 to 35 miles behind the front lines. The forward section spent most of the winter of 1944-45 living in tents in the mountains above Florence. The women usually wore enlisted men's wool shirts, trousers, and combat boots, and carried only a few necessities. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

    WACs arrive in Caserta, Italy, Nov. 17, 1943. They served Fifth Army as telephone operators, clerks, typists, stenographers, cooks and other cadre. They followed the Fifth Army up the peninsula, usually located from 12 to 35 miles behind the front lines. The forward section spent most of the winter of 1944-45 living in tents in the mountains above Florence. The women usually wore enlisted men’s wool shirts, trousers, and combat boots, and carried only a few necessities. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

  8. The WAAC was converted into the Women’s Army Corps in July 1943. Women had the opportunity to either go home or become full-fledged Soldiers.
  9. The WAC Band #2 made its debut at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in 1943, after a group of WACs who happened to be talented, professional musicians found they didn’t make the cut for WAC Band #1, the 400th Army Service Forces Band, because they were black. Although the all-African-American band became a popular headliner for war bond drives, even attracting white audiences, the Army disbanded the group, saying only one band was authorized on each post. Although it reversed its decision after a public outcry, classifying the band as the 404th AFS Band, many band members had been reassigned, their instruments returned. A reconstituted band didn’t play again until December 1944.
  10. July 14, 1944, 38 days after D-day, 49 WACs landed in Normandy. They immediately took over switchboards and worked in tents, cellars, prefabricated huts and switchboard trailers.
  11. At the time, regular access to beauty salons was important in maintaining a sharp appearance. This presented a challenge to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion , the only the African-American WAC unit to serve in Europe during World War II. The battalion created its own beauty section when it deployed to England in February 1945, complete with straightening combs, marcel irons and special gas burners. Soon, African-American nurses and aid workers from across the continent were using furlough time to get their hair done like back home.

    Battalion Commander Maj. Charity Adams and Executive Officer Capt. Abbie Noel Campbell inspect the first Soldiers of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion to arrive in England, February 15, 1945. The only African-American Women’s Army Corps unit sent to Europe during World War II, the 6888th was responsible for clearing years’ worth of backlogged mail in both England and France. Viewing their jobs as crucial to morale at the front, they processed some 65,000 pieces of mail a shift and worked three shifts a day. At the same time, the Soldiers faced constant prejudice and broke gender and racial barriers. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

    Battalion Commander Maj. Charity Adams and Executive Officer Capt. Abbie Noel Campbell inspect the first Soldiers of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion to arrive in England, February 15, 1945. The only African-American Women’s Army Corps unit sent to Europe during World War II, the 6888th was responsible for clearing years’ worth of backlogged mail in both England and France. Viewing their jobs as crucial to morale at the front, they processed some 65,000 pieces of mail a shift and worked three shifts a day. At the same time, the Soldiers faced constant prejudice and broke gender and racial barriers. (Photo courtesy of the National Archives)

  12. WACs arrived in the Pacific in winter uniforms complete with ski pants and earmuffs and heavy twill coveralls. As a result, many women developed skin diseases and other illnesses.

    WACs do laundry on Leyte Island, Dec. 27, 1944. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

    WACs do laundry on Leyte Island, Dec. 27, 1944. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Center of Military History)

  13. By the end of World War II, more than 140,000 WACs had served in more than 400 non-combat military jobs. They even participated in the Manhattan Project and helped develop the atomic bomb.
  14. Enlistments in the WAC closed, Aug. 29, 1945. Bills to establish the WAC as a permanent part of the Army were introduced in Congress in 1946, 1947 and 1948, when the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act finally passed.
  15. Although a WAC unit was not stationed in Korea during the Korean War, a dozen officers and enlisted women were assigned to perform stenographic and interpreting tasks in Seoul and Pusan.
  16. Carolyn James was the first WAC to be promoted to first master sergeant (in 1959) and then sergeant major (in 1960).

    Then-Maj. Kathleen Wilkes and then-Sgt. 1st Class Betty Adams observe the issue of clothing to members of the new Army of Vietnam's Women Army Corps in 1965. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum)

    Then-Maj. Kathleen Wilkes and then-Sgt. 1st Class Betty Adams observe the issue of clothing to members of the new Army of Vietnam’s Women Army Corps in 1965. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army Women’s Museum)

  17. Lieutenant Col. Kathleen I. Wilkes and Master Sgt. Betty L. Adams arrived in Saigon in January 1965 to serve as advisors to the Vietnam Women’s Armed Forces Corps. By the end of the war, more than 800 WACs had served in theater.
  18. November 8, 1967, Congress removed promotion restrictions, making it possible for women to achieve general officer rank. The first WAC officer to be promoted to brigadier general, June 11, 1970 was Elizabeth P. Hoisington, the WAC director.
  19. Until April 1971, women were automatically discharged from the Army upon becoming pregnant.
  20. The WAC was disestablished as a separate corps, Oct. 20, 1978, and women were integrated into the regular Army.

Sources: The U.S. Army Women’s Museum, “The Women’s Army Corps: A commemoration of World War II Service” by Judith A. Bellafaire and “The Women’s Army Corps” by Mattie E. Treadwell for the U.S. Army Center of Military History, and “One Woman’s Army: A black officer remembers the WAC” by Charity Adams Earley.

 

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