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.