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History of the WAC

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.

WAAC Recruitment Poster

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.

WACs in front of bombed out building in Italy

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!

147 Comments

  1. I joined the WAC on March 14th, the WAC’s 14th Anniversary. There were 14 of us and we were interviewed on TV (a big deal at that time) and there was a cake and a party to celebrate. I was in the last platoon to graduate from Ft. Lee, Virginia, before they moved to Ft. McClelland. I took clerk typist training in Ft. Knox, Kentucky, and spent the rest of my time at Ft. Belvour, Virginia working at Service and Supply, Department of Mechanical and Technical Equipment where I wore brass with the US and Corps of Engineers emblems.

  2. I joined the WAC on 28 Nov 1977; shortly thereafter we attended a ceremony to retire the WAC flag. So I was a WAC for a few days. I was issued the Pallas of Athena insignia. After the ceremony, the drill sergeants seemed to get even meaner, if that was possible. They yelled at us, “You’re a ‘Soldier’ now!”
    We never did “girl” push-ups. We also did the live-fire movement-to-target Training. The WAC uniforms were the equivalent of the summer-weight battle dress uniform (BDU) today; so we practically froze to death. I still have my cotton-wool long underwear in which the knees are still stained from low-crawling in that (icy) Alabama red clay!

    • Interesting Terry. I enlisted in the Army 26 May 1977 and was told they were no longer recruiting for the WAC, which I didn’t want to join. Boot camp was at FT Jackson in Nov 77. We were the test cycle for coed boot camp. DIs were very tough on us. Upon graduation we were also issued the Pallas Athena. Those Fatigue uniforms were a joke as were the long Johns. It was a great experience !

    • Lol! Well, I wouldn’t use that term to describe basic training! I did hear that the co-ed training was a lot harder than ours.

      I had not a clue what I was doing, as far as The WAC Corps or not when I signed up. The recruiters told me I’d go to radar training in FL for eight mos. I ended up going to Ft. Rucker, AL for Air Traffic Control School. I still had no clue.

      My three children don’t believe me that I was so shy and even afraid to pick up the mic. back then. I just tell them, it took me 24+ years in the Army to get my Big Mouth! Lol.

      How far did you stay with the Army?

    • I too came into the military at the end of the Women’s Army Corp, and was issued the Pallas Athena insignia. But we were combat support trained with the M16, the machine gun, hand granades, running in combat boots wearing steel pots and we gear loaded with entrenching tools etc. There wasn’t anything feminist about how we dressed or what we did. I also had basic training in Alabama – Ft McClellan, but in March so it wasn’t cold.
      Basic training was a crash fitness program for sure, and we all felt great about accomplishing it.

  3. My mother was a WAC during WWII. She recalled getting training in Massachusetts then was stationed at Fort Sheridan IL where she met my dad at the end of the war.(He spent his war years fighting in the Phillipines). She was buried with military honors 2 years ago, my Dad in 1987. I have some great photos of hers from her time at Fort Sheridan several with names of her fellow service women. Would be happy to share particularly with family members or send to Fold3. Just let me know how. Mothers name was Dorothy (Schiffbauer) Shizak from Morgantown, WV.

    • Mickey

      Could you also send information to the Women in Military Service for American Memorial foundation, inc.

      http://www.womensmemorial.org located near Arlington National. You can register her on their web site. Pass on to other women service members. Keep their legion alive and shared.

  4. My grandma, Emma Weitzein Hadley, worked In a parachute factory during W11; probably in Clevand, OH or mid MI. She made my christening gown out of parachute silk in 1945. All future family members have been baptized in that gown store nice 1945.
    Would love to know more about that factory.

    • Susan, could mid Mi be Belding, MI? One or more factories there made parachutes during the war. Belding is roughly halfway between Grand Rapids and Lansing. To this day it’s nickname is Silk City USA. Don’t know about Cleveland. Hope this helps. Jack

  5. My mother was a WAC and served during WWII. She was stationed in San Diego. I have several pictures of her and friends. I wish I had written down their names because now I can’t remember them. Mom passed away in 1996. Her name was Mary Louise Long from Ms if anyone knows her, I sure would like to hear from you.

  6. My mother is shown in a uniform in Houston, Texas in family photos and was wondering how I might be able to find a membership listing for a volunteer unit. I was only 5 when Pearl Harbor was bombed. During the following years I remember Uncles in the Army and Navy. My mother was a volunteer for many different organizations during this time and later as I was growing into my teen and adult life. I would appreciate any assistance in how to research this item. Thanks,

  7. Read the Code Girls. These ladies made some very valuable contributions to the War Effort and should receive top billing

  8. Interesting that this is coming on the heels of a new book called The D-Day Girls. It’s about British Army women inserted into occupied western Europe in advance of D-Day. It’s said to be a very good read.

  9. my cousin was a WAAC (nurse) during WWII. Her name was Mary G. Moran, Maj, USArmy Retired. I know where she is buried and have her enlistment record. I know from folklore that she was @ the Battle of the Bulge, New Guinea, North Africa. I would like copies of her paperwork. She was a true hero.

  10. Have contacted various fed. agencies but have yet to really get a reply. As add’l focus comes to women’s various expanding roles, just wonder if info on the earliest U.S. solder to serve under the command of a woman U.S. officer would be of any interest to anyone? Noting that the history of woman officially in the military only dates from mid-WWII or so, I served under a woman major (as a SP4) in 1963 which, seems amazing to me, was only about 20 years later. It would seem I would at least be contention for having the tiny place in history, as the first male soldier to do so. I was serving a 3 year obligation (back in universal draft times) and was writing military history in a NATO Command [Europe – Central Army Group (CENTAG). When my initial boss, a male major, was rotated by to the U.S., that position was eventually filled by a woman major, for at least a major portion of my last year of service. I never thought anything of it at the time, but as the years have gone by I can’t help but think that maybe this was a pretty unique experience, now thinking especially for over 60 years ago.
    However, as a bit of humor shows, not everyone was accepting with that situation. CENTAG was a tri-national headquarters (French, German, and U.S.), designed to fill a wartime mission if it ever came to that. Each nationality had a general at the headquarters, as well as a functioning top sergeant respectively. The German top sergeant was a rather young man, certainly friendly in everyday affairs, but when the woman major was assigned to the headquarters he was absolutely against ever saluting a woman (have no idea about nowadays but remember, this was the German Army!). If he left headquarters bldg. and saw her coming down the sidewalk, he would turn the other way and walk completely around the complex, so he was not put in a position in which he would have to salute…a woman… John Hofmann

    • I must have replaced the WAC major (I think her name was Taylor) at CENTAG in about 1966. Her job–and mine–was Historian and Officer Club manager. She was the only WAC assigned to CENTAG at the time. Two males worked for me–an E-7 and a Sp 4.De Gaulle withdrew from NATO just before I arrived so it became a German-American headquarters with a 2-star American general (B.F. Taylor) and a one star German general (Peter Karpinsky– who had been a POW of the Russians)
      It was one of my most interesting assignments.

  11. My Aunt was stationed in France during WWII. You came home as a disable vet. Sybil Pickett. I would love to be able to get a copy of her military records.

  12. My Aunt, Ruby Taylor, b 2 Apr 1911 in Alberta, Canada, raised in Chehalis, Washington, joined the US Coast Guard in about 1942. I think her last assignment was in Charleston, South Carolina, because she was married in Charleston in Dec 1945 shortly after WWII ended in Sep 1945. Her spouse, William R Taylor, b 1910 in Wallace, Idaho, who had been an architect & Engineer as a civilian, was in the Army, probably the branch which preceded the Core of Engineers. He was also a pilot, but did not fly as his duty in the Army. They met while in the service, perhaps in Charleston, and married there before returning to the northwest to settle in Portland, Oregon, near William’s family. They both had the surname of Taylor.

    Does anyone know how to find in Fold 3 the enlistment & duty records of the women who served in WWII in the US Coast Guard? I have good photos of Ruby in her uniform; she was proud to serve. I can find no military record for her. I would appreciate any help.

  13. My mother, Margaret Rogan (a very attractive natural redhead), joined the WAAC in 1945. After basic training at Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, she was stationed (somewhere) in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she met my father, William Latham)a handsome young Navy Chief Petty Officer (who was later promoted to Warrant Officer, then awarded a commission, and eventually retired as a Captain). She left the Army when they married (after a courtship of only three weeks), and became a Navy wife. She died in 2005. If anyone out there knew her during that brief period in 1945, I’d love to hear from you.

    • Charles John Stephenson here, b 05/20/1945 in Des Moines Iowa. My Mother, Sara Ida Simcox, Entered as a WAAC, trained at Ft. Oglethorpe, GA, March 13th 1943, transferred to Kellogg Field, Battle Creek, MI September 01, 1943 then to Coffeeville, KA December 23, 1944. Passed in 2007. Do you remember any mention of her or a friend with the last name of Rathmell? I have a picture of Mom next to an Air Plane?

  14. My sister-in-law was a WAC stationed in England during WWII. She was a Lt. She died in 2014 at the age of 94. She loved her service time. She told many stories of serving in England, during the bombings.

  15. My mother, Marylee Comisak, joined the Women’s Army Corps in Pittsburgh, PA in February of 1943. She had basic training in Daytona Beach, FL, was sent to Moore Air Field in Texas and then to the European Theater. She was among the group of WACs sent to Paris in August after D-Day and received a battle star for the Battle of the Bulge. She was always proud of her service to her country, and when she died in 1982, she requested that she be buried in her uniform. She has a veteran’s marker on her grave. I am so very proud of her!

    • My mother, Elizabeth London, joined the Women’s Army Corps in Altoona, PA, April of 1943. She was from DuBois, PA. She also had basic training in Daytona Beach Florida. I have a panorama photo of all the women in their uniforms in Daytona Beach, dated May 28, 1943. I suppose she just missed your mother. She never went overseas, however, she did train pilots how to fly using instruments. Simulations were done in a Link Trainer. She considered her time in the WACs as the highlight of her life. She died in 2015.

    • Dear Johanna, my family owned the Oaks Hotel in Daytona and the WAACS took over our hotel about 1942-43. I was a baby but my older siblings remember the wonderful girls, some of them were nurses. Do you have any memories of your mother’s stay in Daytona? I have 3 older siblings in their 80s who would love to hear about this. Thanks, Bonnie Tippets

    • Bonnie,
      I wish I had memories to pass along, but I don’t. I have a few photos but none feature a hotel or dwelling.

  16. My mother, Sarah Lilly Hughes was a nurse (Lt) in the army stationed in England during the war. I believe she became part of the Cactus division and do know she was present during the liberation of some of the camps. She did not talk much about her experiences but was so proud to serve.
    Would love to read more about the nurses stationed there during WWII. Any suggestions or memoirs?

    • Having not read it, I don’t know what all it covers, but a play recreating a mythical radio show from December 1944 used “No Time for Fear” as a source. Blurbs I have read about it says it’s a compendium of the reminiscences of US Army nurses on the Western Front during WWII. I believe you can find it on Amazon.

  17. Mary T Tarzanin (later Hill) served in the WAC from 1944 to 1949, she was my Mom. She completed her basic training at Ft Oglethorpe GA and was stationed in Alabama at Maxwell Field. I have her photograph of Company 9, 21st Regiment taken on September 8, 1944 at Ft Oglethorpe. I will gladly email a copy to anyone who thinks someone in their family could be in that shot. It’s also under her profile on Ancestry.com.

  18. I am currently reading a book entitled IT’S MY COUNTRY TOO Women’s Military Stories from the American Revolution to Afghanistan. Edited by Jerri Bell & Tracy Crow. It is well written and VERY interesting.
    As a WAC that endured all the nonsense associated with being a white with a black NCO (early 70’s), a female NCO chewing out a male NCO, the first woman in my battalion to report the 1SG for sexual harrassment, the first female to go through Artic Survival School in Artic Village, Alaska…I can honestly say I believe I survived everything the Army could throw at me.
    I spent 21 years in boots. I would not exchange my service for anything.

  19. I served in the last unit to have a WAC connotation. After us we became part of the US Army. That was in 1973/1974 when I went through basic training at Ft. McClellan.

  20. I enlisted as a WAC in September of 1973 and went to Basic Training at Fort McClellan, Alabama. While we did spend time out in the field, learning what to do in the case of chemical warfare or tear gas, we also learned how to put on makeup and so forth. Like our male counterparts, we learned how to march, learned the UCMJ, who, how and when to salute, etc. We, unlike our male counterparts at the time, also did our own laundry. Our beds were expected to be made correctly; the clothing in our trunks had to be folded the military way and our hanging clothes hung a certain distance apart, facing in one direction. It was quite an experience. I attended school in Massachusetts, where I met my future husband. I served in Thailand and Germany. I am proud of my service to our country.

  21. My mother served in North Africa. She was a telephone operator. Among other things she worked the Cairo Conference. She was transferred to Italy where she met my father who was stationed there. They married in Naples and honeymooned on Capri. After VE day she had enough points to come home. My father was going to the Pacific but ended up not having to go because of Hiroshima. Many years later I was able to share notes with my mother after I went into the Great Pyramid 30 years after she did. Like her, I was in the Army.

  22. I have an autographed copy of Maddie Treadwell’s autographed book which I dearly treasured. What pioneer women they were!

  23. I was a WAC in 1975 with basic a Ft Jackson. Was very saddened when they abolished the Corp and I had to remove my insignia. I had joined the WACs and that’s where I wanted to be.

    • @Ann Stone I wished I could have tried the WAC’s too, but my mother was a women’s libber, so I was kind of glad to join the Regular Army she fought so hard for women to be part of. But it was lonely and boring, nothing but drugged, drunk, girl chasing men around. The one man I made friends with getting bullied by the others because we were friends not lovers.

  24. I joined the Army in October 1971. After basic training at Ft McClellan, I worked as an office coordinator for the MI headquarters at Ft Devons. At Ft Devons the women were housed in old wooden barracks that were built during the Korean war. I remember waking up one morning to find snow on my blanket, even though the window was closed. The snow had blown in through the cracks in the walls! Later, we were moved into bettter barracks. A modern multistory building had been built for the men- we got to move into their old concrete barracks. At least it wasn’t drafty.

  25. Wac uniforms were a joke. Colonel Clark wanted her women to be dressed like ladies. That is why the Wac uniforms were made of such stupid fabric and fitted in such an unpractical fashion. One example was our stiff, starched, cotton PT uniform, with a buttoned short-sleeve blouse, cotton shorts and a starched skirt that buttoned up the front. Women’s fatigues were tight fitting with pockets that were practically useless.

    Imagine working as an office coordinator, taking care of the motor pool and carrying sacks of mail while wearing a skirt! I remember the day that the Army announced a new uniform for women- the pantsuit! I immediately went to the PX and bought one. I didn’t want to wait months to be issued one for free.

    Our combat boots were not like the mens. Wac combat boots were lady-like, with pointed toes and smooth leather soles. This was very bad for women who were out in the field, especially if they had to run over uneven terrain. In basic training, I slipped and sprained my ankle. But there were certainly women nurses in Vietnam who had worse experiences because of those wretched boots.

  26. I joined the military as a WAC, Very proud of that. I joined 1 MAY 1974, FT McClellan, AL from NY. RETIRED 30 APRIL 2016. Served 42 years. I have been all over the US, Germany and Iraq. (OIF). Ended career as CW4.I would not have traded it for the world.

  27. Thank you all for your service to our country. I have a question that I would appreciate help with my mother in-law worked in washington D.C.in 1945 until the war ended Her name was Linda Bantarri.Family history says she worked for the first women general as a clerk secretary and may have married or been engaged to a (Joe)Mckenna who worked there also . I need some help to track this down . She later moved to New York Her family was from Hibbing [email protected] Please help thank you…

  28. I too was the last of the WAC’s— I enlisted may1977 — ft Jackson basic training but also ft Jackson ait—basic was a wac —ait no longer — so literally last of wac’s

  29. Ladies,
    Thanks, thanks, thanks!

  30. The Cord uniform was a lot better than the light weight Class A with skirt especially in the South for garrison Soldiers. The light weight fatigues that the women in aviation wore were better than the usual fatigues. I wore them at Fort Rucker, AL and in Germany. I wore men boots because supply or post didn’t have female boots with blousing rubbers.

  31. I SALUTE ALL ARMY WOMEN!! I was Navy, Korean War, so I want all you folks who have commented here to be sure and check this out.A place to put your family member or yourself in the DATA BASE of the WOMEN’S MILITARY MEMORIAL in Washington DC. The cost is $25.00 dollars to enter them into this great tribute for serving our country. I gain nothing from this, just want you to know family can look these great women up in the future, preserving their names forever. You can give the info for your loved ones by calling this toll free number: 800-222-2294 or http://www.womensmemorial.org My son was Army. God Bless America.

    • WIMSA (Women in military service to America) also includes a section for civilian women who worked with the military, e.g., Red Cross.

    • Yes Eileen, I am not surprised, plenty of gals served the Red Cross, it was a huge part of WWll. They also honor young ladies who were in Cadet Nurse training also. The sad story of WWll was the women who flew fighters and bombers. They were shrouded, like ghosts, nobody knew about it till many years after the war. Too many! Anyone who did their share deserves to be honored. It was a scary time for the world, pray no one like Hitler shows up again.

  32. My mother, Arlette Buchholz, enlisted in the WAAC then stayed when it became WAC. She went to Ft Devens, not too far for a girl from Dubuque IA. Her first posting was recruitment office in Memphis. Her unit (6718) then went to North Africa briefly then on to Caserta Italy. She worked for the MAAF office for General Eaker among others. She felt her time in the service was the most important of her life. I have several photos of her and others in her unit in uniform and relaxed. She returned to IA after the war but just couldn’t stay put. She went to Germany as a civilian to serve in the Office of Military Government US in Berlin. She met my dad on the ship heading overseas and they married in Berlin.

  33. I joined the Wac in April 1964. We did our basic training at Fort McCelland Anniston Alabama. No guns in those days just a baseball bat during bivac. Anniston was not a nice place for back women. They seemed to know how to hand it e the South of the 60s better than a girl from California. We had a lot of army history courses and physical training. We did kp in those days. Had a blue skirt and blouse with combat boots. Went on to Fort Holabird located in Baltimore Md for Intelligence School. You were somewhat isolated in the forts. We had a lot of protesters in those days of early Vietnam . We had an induction center on the corner of the post. Our sergeants that were women at the time were former WW 2 Wacs. They were putting in the end of their 20 years. I believe my time in the Army was a growing up time. In basic training we had women who had never seen a store bought bar of soap
    You learned to work together. We were all races. Our goal. Graduate basic training.

    My father was in WW1 and my neighbors growing up WW 2. My family fought in the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, the Civil War maybe not on the right side but in what they believed states right. And we need Ww2 and I’m a Vietnam era vet.

  34. Just want to recognize on women’s history month that my Aunt Patricia Malone from Lowell, Mass. served in the WACS during WW2. Heard as a boy my parents always say she served on the switchboard when the Germans surrendered. Thank you Aunt Pat and all who served!

  35. This is a great forum, I am reading all these entries and realize you girls are reconnecting through this… It is great.
    I am Canadian, but I still say thanks for you service.

  36. This is great! My mother was in the WAC before I was born. She got out in late 45 or early 46 when she married my dad. I wasn’t born till 51 when dad came home after long stint in Germany. I’ve got pictures that I treasure of her in uniform and various things she was doing. Thank all of you for your service!

  37. Two of my great aunts served; I think one in the WAC and the other in the WAAC. In the blog there is a photograph of a unit. Are there photographs of all the units? If so, where/how would I access them?

  38. Fort McClellan 1963.

  39. Joette. Also Fort Holabird in 1964.

  40. Ft.McClellan Oct. 1970, USWAC. Delta Company Basic Training. Searching for K. Little. and C. Mancini. Lost track of you but have held on to the memories. Sgt. Kim replaced Sgt. Dennis. Little, you remember that?;( Would love to replace my Pallas Athena Insignia.

  41. My Mother Jean Telford joined the WAAC Sept 30,1942, Boston, MA, and was sent for basic training at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Upon my mother’s passing in 2014, I found her service diary listing where she had been, along with photos. She served at Army Air Corps bases in Savannah, GA and North Carolina. Her last assignment was at Mitchell Field, Long Island, NY.

  42. I enlisted May, 1974. Basic at Ft. McClellan, great memories. Last of the WACS. Never got to learn the M-16. Would love to know what ever happened to DS Ruff!
    Thanks for your service ladies!

  43. does anybody have knowledge of a Linda Bantarri or a joe Mckenna from Sept. 2 1945 maybe stationed in Washington DC linda may have used his last name mckenna Believe he was a Capt. and she a secretary for I beieve the first women General? Hlp Please [email protected]

  44. does anybody have knowledge of a Linda Bantarri or a joe Mckenna from Sept. 2 1945 maybe stationed in Washington DC linda may have used his last name mckenna Believe he was a Capt. and she a secretary for I beieve the first women General? Help Please [email protected]

  45. I found the history very interesting. I enlisted in the WACs in Jan 1952. After basic training at Ft Lee, VA, I was assigned to the Signal Corps. I completed training as a cryptographer in Sept and was stationed at the Pentagon, Washington DC. From there to SHAPE Hdqrs, a Nato base, in France. I was discharged in Jan 1954. I had planned on making the WAC my career but, married and we decided to return to civilian life. A great two years!