In 1941, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill to create the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Rogers had witnessed first-hand the contributions of women during WWI, and the lack of government benefits available to them. She intended to create legislation to change that.
Meanwhile, military leaders approached Oveta Culp Hobby asking for suggestions on how the military might organize an auxiliary branch for women. Hobby was busy with other responsibilities but reluctantly agreed to prepare a potential organization chart. In December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor brought a sense of urgency to the work of both women. On May 14, 1942, the WAAC bill passed and Hobby was named WAAC director.
The first WAAC training center was established at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Anxious to serve, nearly 35,000 women applied for 1,000 open spots. Applicants were required to be US citizens, between the ages of 21-45 without dependents, at least 5-feet tall, and weighing a minimum of 100 lbs. WAACs were an auxiliary of the Army, meaning they would receive living quarters, uniforms, pay, and food, but would not receive overseas pay, life insurance, and death benefits. WAACs immediately set about training to free up positions held by male soldiers, enabling them to go overseas and fight.
In 1943, Rep. Rogers introduced legislation to convert the WAAC into the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), making the WAC part of the regular Army. Women would receive a rank, pay, and benefits equal to their male counterparts. The bill passed and Director Hobby received a promotion to the rank of colonel.
The first WACS arrived in the European Theater of Operations in July 1943, followed by other war theaters. WACs performed a variety of duties including clerical work, intelligence, translation, and mechanics. Marijane Trotter Lehr turned her photography hobby into a vital military job. Pvt. Louise Karpowitz created photo-reconnaissance negatives while Edith Standen, a graduate of Oxford University, used her education as an art historian to make valuable contributions to recover priceless art and artifacts looted by the Nazis. Sgt. Geraldine Hill plotted the course of Allied planes in the Flying Fortress division of the Eighth Army; and Cpl. Florence Doolen served in Africa and Italy in a communications company. The most effective weapon Sgt. Ann Beryl Tilson used was her watercolors. She painted on the battlefields of France, capturing details for Army engineers that a camera could not.
When the war came to a close, most WACs returned home, although a few stayed as part of the occupying force. More than 150,000 WACs served during WWII and their contributions changed the tides of history. To learn more about the WAC, search Fold3 today!