A Brief History of Women in the Army

| March 19, 2017

Recruiting women for the WAAC started in 1941, very shortly after Pearl Harbor. The object was to recruit women to fill positions usually held by men so as to release them to combat duty.  Unfortunately, because the WAAC was an auxiliary service, the women who were serving at home or overseas did not have any of the benefits that men in the regular Army had, which include housing, food and medical benefits.  Since some of them were posted to war zones such as London, they had to pay for everything out of pocket.

Congressional  hearings on the subject of converting the WAAC to the Women’s Army Corps opened in March 1943.  WAACs became WACs (regular Army) on 3 July 1943.


At the time, the attitude of the press toward these women was patronizing at its best.  In general, the American press had reported favorably, if rather frivolously, on the WAAC. Although editors devoted an inordinate amount of space to the color of WAAC underwear and the dating question, the press was usually sympathetic to the adjustments made by women to military life and the exciting job and travel opportunities awaiting those who enlisted.

However, there were exceptions. In the well-known column, “Capitol Stuff,” carried nationwide by the McCormick newspaper chain, columnist John O’Donnell claimed that a “super-secret War Department policy authorized the issuance of prophylactics to all WAACs before they were sent overseas.” O’Donnell insisted that WAAC Director Oveta Culp Hobby was fully aware of and in agreement with this policy. The entire charge was, of course, a complete fabrication and O’Donnell was forced to retract his allegation.

Not much of that attitude has changed, has it?  The derogatory chatter about women serving their country stemmed partly from men who did not want to be released to combat duty overseas, and their families.

The damage done to the WAAC by this column, even with the rapid retraction, was incalculable. WAACs and their relatives were outraged and humiliated. The immediate denials issued by President and Mrs. Roosevelt, Secretary Stimson, and Lt. Gen. Brehon B. Somervell of the Army Service Forces mitigated the feelings of some but did little to alleviate the shock of many. The inevitable general public discussion led Congress to summon Director Hobby to produce statistics on WAAC pregnancies and the frequency of venereal disease. Upon learning of the exceptionally small percent cited, Congress commended Major Hobby and the WAAC.

The attached video is a 9-minute recruiting film showing women doing the stateside jobs that men had been doing, including testing artillery before shipping it overseas.  I don’t know who the General is at the end of the film, but perhaps someone can identify him.




Category: Army News, Real Soldiers

Comments (38)

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  1. 2banana says:

    How many women get pregnant while serving?


    Now go try to plan combat operations never knowing when you will lose a critical skill that you wouldn’t have to worry about if only men were serving.

    Or just tell the remaining men and women to shoulder that extra load.

    It’s not like successful missions or lives depend on it…


    • Ex-PH2 says:

      By comparison, 2banana, what’s the percentage of dead and injured directly related to combat operations?

      And don’t tell me that doesn’t count. It certainly does. Those casualties all have to be replaced.

      • 68W58 says:

        Yes-and so what? Those casualties have to be replaced regardless. How does adding another 16% needing replacement l(or however that factors out for whatever proportion of females a unit has) mitigate against those losses?

      • Ex-PH2 says:

        You’re missing the point, 68W58. The dead and injured casualties are most likely permanent losses. The pregnancy-related losses are not permanent, but I know as well as you that they are combat avoidance. The women are not discharged like they used to be.

        • 68W58 says:

          For all intents me purposes they might as well be permanent. A troop goes down pregnant. She will be out several months before she gives birth and several more afterwards. By that time her unit has had time to deploy, execute their mission in theater and redeploy home. The unit may get her back once they return to home station, but almost certainly not while they are still in theater.

          • OWB says:

            Punish the goldbricks. There should already exist plenty of articles within the UCMJ for doing so.

            What you are suggesting, 68W58, is punishing those who are not a problem for the sins of others.

            Would you apply the same standard to men? Since the majority of those reporting for treatment of VD, for instance, are men, perhaps men should not be allowed to enlist. Of course that is a ridiculous, but so is your assertion.

            Personally, I don’t understand why this is an issue.

            • 68W58 says:

              There is no similar condition that effects only men that incapacitates them for months at a time. And there is no “punishing” women for getting pregnant by the services, only more work for the men in their units in order to take up the slack. That all of this was explicitly pointed out-almost to the exact detail-by those of us opposed to a greater role for females in the force from the beginning-only for those, such as yourself, who advocated for that greater role to deny it , is cold comfort.

              What I am suggesting is returning to a policy that worked perfectly well for a long time I know why you can’t accept that, so you might as well own the failures of the policy you favor.

              • OWB says:

                What the hell are you trying to say there, 68W58? It certainly isn’t very clear, but it IS obvious that you are accusing me of something here.

                So far I have advocated punishing goldbricks when they are goldbricking. You evidently don’t agree that goldbricks should be punished?

                Otherwise, what you are spewing is pretty unclear. If you want to insult me, you need to be more explicit instead of simply making up crap.

                Making assumptions usually doesn’t go well for the one making assumptions.

                For others getting here late in the game, I have no idea what it is that I am being accused of supporting. Last I checked, my views are quite clearly posted around the web, and none of them advocate goldbricking, forcing folks to perform tasks for which they are not suited, and I still don’t get why this is an issue.

                Or what it has to do with the honorable service performed under varying conditions of everyone who served before us be they male or female.

                • 68W58 says:

                  I remember very particularly you advocating for an expanded role for women in the service on these pages. Specifically you did so on a thread about opening Ranger school to females (that was probably three years ago or so). On that thread you scolded some of us for assuming you were male. So I’m not “assuming” anything, my memory works perfectly well.

                  • OWB says:

                    You sure aren’t remembering that correctly. I have not advocated ever, anywhere, that women should do anything for which they are not qualified to participate. End of story.

                    I still question why women should serve in combat rolls. Some perhaps, but you will find it impossible to find anywhere that I have advocated infantry type assignments for women. It just didn’t happen.

            • Ex-PH2 says:

              Hold on, there, 68W58: ‘only more work for the men in their units in order to take up the slack’. This statement is incorrect, as it fails to recognize the other women who do NOT use pregnancy as an excuse to get out of doing the jobs they were hired to do. The extra work falls to everyone in the unit, NOT just to the men.

              • 68W58 says:

                Fair enough.

                • Just An Old Dog says:

                  16% of women in service get pregnant. Ok, well first of all it seems like you are making the assumption that all these women are some type of trailor trash that got knocked up by a sperm donor just to get out of a deployment or their service obligations. It was my experience that the vast majority of Women Marines that I served with who got pregnant were married and put a lot of thought into starting a family, They were productive throughout their pregnancy and the command found a niche they could fill when physical restrictions came into place. Just like they do with Males who have major surgeries and are out of action for 6.

                  • desert says:

                    I take exception to the term “trailer trash”! I have lived in trailers several time in my life, most of those times, I didn’t have the money for a castle like you live in, now, I live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood, but I am still the same trailer trash!

        • Ex-PH2 says:

          I realize that this is a very real issue, but when civilian women work right up to the last day of the third trimester, and frequently start back to work before they have to, my response is that the problem is not being addressed properly.

          There’s a solution to it, but it is not being used. Several people have said these girls test pregnant before deploying, then when the unit returns to home base, there’s no baby. Where I come from (Navy), this is called goldbricking.

          I am not defending them, OK?

  2. The Other Whitey says:

    The really sad thing is the way that modern “feminists” piss on the memory of the WAAC/WACs, WAVEs, WASPs, and WMs (and the British WRENs, while we’re at it).

    My Aunt Christine, who passed away this last fall, was a WAVE back when WAVEs were still a thing. She was an Aviation Storekeeper at North Island while her older brother followed his war dog with a rifle in Vietnam. They both did their part. She was damn proud to have done it, too. She was also just about the most wonderful lady ever to have walked the Earth. The “3rd-wave feminist” twats making all the noise today don’t deserve to breathe the same air as she did.

    Very good article, Ex. They rarely get any recognition, much less the credit they deserve, outside of the rare bullshit fluff piece.

  3. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    Where did you get that business about WAACs “paying for everything out of pocket?” I can’t find support for that. Also, that NY Daily News columnist was a piece of work. He hated FDR and the censorship that existed during the war years and, to FDR’s dismay, acquired and published an accurate accounting of Pearl Harbor casualties. He also later apologized in his column for blaming Jews for Patton’s being replaced as a result of the slapping incident. In other words, the columnist was a muckraker and all around asshole. Another way to see this is that while all services had a need for women to take up essential support duties, the Army led the way. The other services later followed. As for the opposition of male soldiers to WACs tracing to the mens’ fear of dangerous duty, that’s a lousy thing to say for which mere anecdote or conjecture is not sufficient to support.

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Sixth paragraph down in the linked article.

      “Although the compromise WAAC bill did not prohibit auxiliaries from serving overseas, it failed to provide them with the overseas pay, government life insurance, veterans medical coverage, and death benefits granted Regular Army soldiers. If WAACs were captured, they had no protection under existing international agreements covering prisoners of war. Rogers’ purpose in introducing the WAAC bill had been to obtain pay, benefits, and protection for women working with the military. While she achieved some of her goals, many compromises had been necessary to get the bill onto the floor.”

      • 2/17 Air Cav says:

        Well, that does not do it. The WAACs were not a military element under the original bill and were not, therefore, entitled to all of the benefits their military counterparts were receiving. The same could be said for the Flying Tigers who, although well paid, were not a US military element. There were many issues that women in the military presented but paying their own way was not one of them.

        • Ex-PH2 says:

          Exactly, they were not entitled to the military benefits extended to soldiers, sailors and Marines, because they were an auxiliary force. That was the reason for changing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp to Women’s Army Corps.

          • 2/17 Air Cav says:

            Exactly? The women of the WAACs did not pay, as you wrote, for their “housing, food and medical benefits.” They were provided housing. They were provided food. They were provided medical care. They were not entitled to mil life insurance, pensions, or Veteran benefits, including health care, until the WACs were created.

    • OWB says:

      The women who flew ferry operations did pay their own training expenses, but I am also unaware of WAACs doing so. Have had several friends through the years who served in both capacities, even family members who never made that claim and could not have afforded to pay their own way.

      • 2/17 Air Cav says:

        The Originals, the WAFS, were certified pilots, a small group hired from a very large applicant pool. So, if you are referring to flight training, there was little if any. The women had 30 days of training in mil-related matters. So, I have to ask: what is your source for pay-your-own training? I cannot find anything in the sources I visited on the history of the WAFS.

        • OWB says:

          First person relationships = source. Knew several of them over the years who became civilian FBO’s, instructors and such after their war duty. An amazing bunch of women. Heard a lot of stories from one who was sort of a neighbor 50 years ago and met others through her.

          • 2/17 Air Cav says:

            I won’t doubt your personal sources, but I do believe that if the women incurred persona; training expenses, they were reimbursed or they paid for their own training in order to be eligible to join the original WAFS, which took only certified pilots. So, just to apply, a woman had to be a pilot–originally.

            • OWB says:

              That would also be my understanding. These were mostly women of some means, many college educated, who would have qualified anyway to become officers. Not unlike the class of women recruited to be spies during that same period – already well traveled.

              These women were adventurers for the most part, and many knew Amelia Earhart. Then again, most of the men adventurers of the day also came from wealthy backgrounds. Who else could afford the lifestyle?

              Yes, they paid for their training. Seems like their daddys often paid for their travel expenses, but I could be misremembering that part. The rich fathers may have paid the government to pay their daughters and their not so rich friends. It didn’t matter to the women involved. They just wanted to get the job done, have a new adventure – probably why the feminazis don’t acknowledge them so much.

              If you haven’t used the site, this might be interesting for research: http://www.afhra.af.mil/

  4. MMCM(SW) says:

    General George G. Marshall
    Army Chief of Staff

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      Ah! Thank you, Master Chief!

      • MMCM(SW) says:

        No problem. Us old retired Master Chief’s are still good for something.
        Good article.
        Brought back good memories (& a tear or two)of my aunt who served in WWII. I was a pallbearer for her. Have her flag in a place of honor in my home.

    • 2/17 Air Cav says:

      Middle initial was C, for Catlett. Don’t ask me.

  5. OWB says:

    Thanks, PH, for this article. The source document is fascinating especially since so many members of my family served in the US Army, even some of the women.

  6. RetMsgt77 says:

    Gen. Omar N. Bradley was at the end of the film.

  7. Thunderstixx says:

    As the father of a disabled American Army Female Warrior I take exception to the opinionating by several here on the use of pregnancy to avoid deployment.
    My daughter married when she finished AIT and didn’t get pregnant until both she and her husband were done with their military obligations.
    It would seem to me that providing the women with the appropriate birth control at no charge for their lifestyles would negate the use of that condition to shirk the duties that they volunteered for.
    I see no reason why there cannot be a no pregnancy clause in the contract they sign when enlist or are appointed as officers in any armed service.
    Then, if pregnancy becomes a problem the blame falls back on the troop themselves and a general discharge at a lower rate of pay could be offered instead of continuing to keep their rank and duties that they are not able to perform.
    If someone has a problem with the no pregnancy clause, then I believe that the military would not be a wise choice for them.
    Birth control rarely fails these days, when it does, it is usually the fault of the person that administers the medication, usually the woman themselves.
    Until men get effective birth control I would say that if they are married to a woman or dating one that is in the military and that woman gets pregnant they should also be held responsible for their actions regarding the pregnancy. After all, it still does require two to tango and no matter how badly the feminazi’s want to change it, God put something in the design of the human being that ensures that two people of the opposite sex are still needed to reproduce…

    • Veritas Omnia Vincit says:

      It would be great if that rule were reciprocal as well…after all why should the Army be tasked with using its budget to cover healthcare for dependents because some guy wants kids?

    • Ex-PH2 says:

      The fact is, Thunderstixx, that more than one OIF/ME vet has said that their unit trained for deployment but some of the women tested pregnant, thus were left behind, and when the unit returned, there was no baby.
      I think this is a valid complaint since it was more than one person voicing it, and it constitutes goldbricking – doing something specifically intended to get you out of doing your jog.

    • David says:

      You’re getting on very thin ice, there… the best birth control around is about 99% effective which means even with taking precautions, a woman having twice weekly sex with her husband has pretty much even odds of getting pregnant in any year – and if that happens what do you suggest, military mandated abortions? Gonna prosecute a newly married couple for doing what newly married couples tend to do? Very tangled set of assumptions in all this. I don’t pretend to have an answer. (Think it is worth noting, by the way, that there is a section of Arlington just downhill from the Rough Riders’ monument dedicated to women who served in the AEF in WWI. Mostly nurses, I am told.)

  8. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    “…I take exception to the opinionating by several here on the use of pregnancy to avoid deployment.” I wasn’t among them but I’ll join them, not b/c I care one way or the other but b/c they are correct, according to many sources. It’s outlandish but that’s the way it is. The services have become a “jobs program” in which what was one a dis-chargeable condition (pregnancy) is now rewarded with pre-natal care, reassignment, maternity leave, and so on. It’s tough to get a unit or a ship or what have you battle-ready sharp when you know you’ll lose a substantial percentage of your people to pregnancy.