Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Women's Army Corps (WACs)

Sisters and my first cousins twice removed, Elizabeth May and Bernice "Bea" Marie Muir both served in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. I realized I didn't know much about the WACs and wanted to learn more.

"Their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable."
-- Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

Over 150,000 women served in the Women's Army Corps during World War II, making the equivalent of seven divisions of men available for combat. Applicants had to be between 21 and 45 years of age with no dependents, be at least five feet tall, and weigh 100 pounds or more. The first WACs joined Aircraft Warning Service (AWS) units in the field. Later recruits were sent to the Army Air Forces (AAF), Army Ground Forces (AGF), or Army Services Force (ASF) where they worked as file clerks, typists, stenographers, or motor pool drivers. Gradually each service discovered women were capable of filling numerous positions, such as weather observers and forecasters, cryptographers, radio operators and repairmen, sheet metal workers, parachute riggers, bombsight maintenance specialists, aerial photography analysts, and control tower operators. Some were even assigned flying duties and others ran the statistical control machines (precursors of computers) used to keep track of personnel records.

Soon after Betty Muir enlisted in the WACs as an aviation cadet, recruiting slowed to a trickle as slander campaigns challenged the WACS as sexually immoral. Many soldiers ferociously opposed allowing women in uniform, warning their sisters and female friends they would be seen as lesbians or prostitutes. Other men, seeing the posters that called on women to volunteer in order to "free a man to fight" feared being sent to combat units if women took the safe jobs. Critics outside the military included those with religious objections, reactionaries who wanted to prevent social change, and right-wing critics of Roosevelt's social programs.

Women's Army Auxiliary Corps recruiting poster; photograph courtesy of Wikipedia

Despite initial resistance, the WACs were considered important by many in the Army, who realized they helped the U.S. and its allies win the war. Traditional restrictions placed on women in the workplace before the war were broken by World War II. The WACs were disbanded in 1978 and all-female units were integrated with male units.

General Douglas McArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers," adding that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men.

Treadwell, Mattie E. United States Army in World War II: Special Studies -- The Women's Army Corps, (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1954)
U.S. Army Center for Military History,


  1. I had no idea there had ever been any controversy with the WACs, so I found this interesting. I've always thought of them as such brave and adventurous women, so it's fun that you have women in your family who served.

    1. I didn't know about the controversy either. I thought they would have been celebrated for helping so actively in the war effort.