The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the women's branch of the United States Army. It was created as an auxiliary unit, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on 15 May 1942 by Public Law 554, and converted to an active duty status in the Army of the United States as the WAC on 1 July 1943. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent woman in Texas society. The WAC was disbanded in 1978, and all units were integrated with male units.
The WAAC's organization was designed by numerous Army bureaus coordinated by Lt. Col. Gillman C. Mudgett, the first WAAC Pre-Planner; however, nearly all of his plans were discarded or greatly modified before going into operation because he expected a corps of only 11,000 women. Without the support of the War Department, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill on 28 May 1941, providing for a women's army auxiliary corps. The bill was held up for months by the Bureau of the Budget but was resurrected after the United States entered the war. The senate approved the bill on 14 May 1941 and became law on 15 May 1942. When President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill the next day, he set a recruitment goal of 25,000 women for the first year. That goal was unexpectedly exceeded, so Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson decided to increase the limit by authorizing the enlistment of 150,000 volunteers.
The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the ATS, which caught the attention of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall. Members of the WAC became the first women other than nurses to serve within the United States Army. In 1942, the first contingent of 800 members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps began basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School, Iowa. The women were fitted for uniforms, interviewed, assigned to companies and barracks and inoculated against disease during the first day.
The WAAC were first trained in three major specialties. The brightest and nimblest were trained as switchboard operators. Next came the mechanics, who had to have a high degree of mechanical aptitude and problem solving ability. The bakers were usually the lowest scoring recruits and were stereotyped as being the least intelligent and able by their fellow WAACs. This was later expanded to dozens of specialties like Postal Clerk, Driver, Stenographer, and Clerk-Typist. WAC armorers maintained and repaired small arms and heavy weapons that they were not allowed to use.
A physical training manual titled "You Must Be Fit" was published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the women recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by naming the responsibility of the women: "Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over." It cited the commitment of women to the war effort in England, Russia, Germany and Japan, and emphasized that the WAC recruits must be physically able to take on any job assigned to them. The fitness manual was state-of-the-art for its day, with sections on warming up, and progressive body-weight strength-building exercises for the arms, legs, stomach, and neck and back. It included a section on designing a personal fitness routine after basic training, and concluded with "The Army Way to Health and Added Attractiveness" with advice on skin care, make-up, and hair styles.
Inept publicity and the poor appearance of the WAAC/WAC uniform, especially in comparison to that of the other services, handicapped recruiting efforts. A resistance by senior Army commanders was overcome by the efficient service of WAACs in the field, but the attitude of men in the rank and file remained generally negative and hopes that up to a million men could be replaced by women never materialized. The United States Army Air Forces became an early and staunch supporter of regular military status for women in the army.
About 150,000 American women eventually served in the WAAC and WAC during World War II. They were the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army. While conservative opinion in the leadership of the Army and public opinion generally was initially opposed to women serving in uniform, the shortage of men necessitated a new policy.
While most women served stateside, some went to various places around the world, including Europe, North Africa, and New Guinea. For example, WACs landed on Normandy Beach just a few weeks after the initial invasion.
In 1943 the recruiting momentum stopped and went into reverse as a massive slander campaign on the home front challenged the WACs as sexually immoral. Many soldiers ferociously opposed allowing women in uniform, warning their sisters and friends they would be seen as lesbians or prostitutes. Other sources were from other women - servicemen's and officer's wives' idle gossip, local women who disliked the newcomers taking over "their town", female civilian employees resenting the competition (for both jobs and men), charity and volunteer organizations who resented the extra attention the WAACs received, and complaints and slander spread by disgruntled or discharged WAACs. All investigations showed the rumors were false.
Although many sources spawned and fed bad jokes and ugly rumors about military women, contemporaneous and historical accounts have focused on the work of syndicated columnist John O'Donnell. According to an Army history, even with its hasty retraction, O'Donnell's June 8, 1943 "Capitol Stuff" column did "incalculable damage." That column began, "Contraceptives and prophylactic equipment will be furnished to members of the WAACS, according to a super secret agreement reached by the high ranking officers of the War Department and the WAAC chieftain, Mrs. William Pettus Hobby...." This followed O'Donnell's June 7 column discussing efforts of women journalists and congresswomen to dispel "the gaudy stories of the gay and careless way in which the young ladies in uniform ... disport themselves...."
The allegations were refuted, but the "fat was in the fire. The morals of the WAACs became a topic of general discussion...." Denials of O'Donnell's fabrications and others like them were ineffectual. According to Mattie Treadwell's Army history, as long as three years after O'Donnell's column, "religious publications were still to be found reprinting the story, and actually attributing the columnist's lines to Director Hobby. Director Hobby's picture was labeled 'Astounding Degeneracy' ...."
Black women served in the Army's WAAC and WAC, but very few served in the Navy. African American women serving in the WAC experienced segregation in much the same fashion as in U.S. civilian life. Some billets accepted WACs of any race, while others did not. Black women were taught the same specialties as white women, and the races were not segregated at specialty training schools. The US Army goal was to have 10 percent of the force be African-American, to reflect the larger U.S. population, but a shortage of recruits brought only 5.1 percent black women to the WAC.
General Douglas MacArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers", adding that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men. Many generals wanted more of them and proposed to draft women but it was realized that this "would provoke considerable public outcry and Congressional opposition", and so the War Department declined to take such a drastic step. Those 150,000 women who did serve released the equivalent of 7 divisions of men for combat. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable". Nevertheless, the slander campaign hurt the reputation of the WAC and WAVES; many women did not want it known they were veterans.
During the same time period, other branches of the U.S. military had similar women's units, including the Navy WAVES, the SPARS of the Coast Guard, United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve, and the (civil) Women Airforce Service Pilots. The British Armed Forces also had similar units, including the Women's Royal Naval Service ("Wrens"), the Auxiliary Territorial Service. and the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.
According to historian D'Ann Campbell, American society was not ready for women in military roles:
Wacs were assigned to the Corps of Engineers since early 1943. Four-hundred twenty-two personnel were employed on the project. Maj. Gen. Leslie R. Groves, commander of the project, wrote: "Little is known of the significance of the contribution to the Manhattan Project by hundreds of members of the Women's Army Corps ... Since you received no headline acclaim, no one outside the project will ever know how much depended upon you."
The women interviewed for positions on the project were told they would do a hard job, would never be allowed to go overseas or attend officer candidate school, would never receive publicity, and would live at isolated stations with few recreational facilities. A surprising number of highly qualified women responded.
WAC units involved in this effort were awarded the Meritorious Unit Service Award; twenty women received the Army Commendation Ribbon; and one received the Legion of Merit.
The WAC as a branch was disbanded in 1978 and all female units were integrated with male units. Women serving as WACs at that time converted in branch to whichever Military Occupational Specialty they worked in. Since then, women in the US Army have served in the same units as men, though they have only been allowed in or near combat situations since 1994 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered the removal of "substantial risk of capture" from the list of grounds for excluding women from certain military units. In 2015 Jeanne Pace, at the time the longest-tenured female warrant officer and the last former member of the WAC on active duty, retired. She had joined the WAC in 1972.
Originally there were only four enlisted (or "enrolled") WAAC ranks (auxiliary, junior leader, leader, and senior leader) and three WAC officer ranks (first, second and third officer). The Director was initially considered as equivalent to a major, then later made the equivalent of a colonel. The enlisted ranks expanded as the organization grew in size. Promotion was initially rapid and based on ability and skill. As members of a volunteer auxiliary group, the WAACs got paid less than their equivalent male counterparts in the US Army and did not receive any benefits or privileges.
WAAC organizational insignia was a Rising Eagle (nicknamed the "Waddling Duck" or "Walking Buzzard" by WAACs). It was worn in gold metal as cap badges and uniform buttons. Enlisted and NCO personnel wore it as an embossed circular cap badge on their Hobby Hats, while officers wore a "free" version (open work without a backing) on their hats to distinguish them. Their auxiliary insignia was the dark blue letters "WAAC" on an Olive Drab rectangle worn on the upper sleeve (below the stripes for enlisted ranks). WAAC personnel were not allowed to wear the same rank insignia as Army personnel. They were usually authorized to do so by post or unit commanders to help in indicating their seniority within the WAAC, although they had no authority over Army personnel.
|WAAC ranks (May, 1942 - April, 1943)|
|Enrolled WAAC||US Army
|WAAC officer||US Army|
|Senior leader||Master sergeant||Director of the WAAC||Major|
|Senior leader||First sergeant||First officer||Captain|
|Leader||Technical sergeant||Second officer||1st lieutenant|
|Leader||Staff sergeant||Third officer||2nd lieutenant|
|Auxiliary first class||Private first class|
|Auxiliary second class||Private|
|Auxiliary third class||Recruit|
|WAAC ranks (April, 1943 - July, 1943)|
|Enlisted WAAC||US Army
|WAAC officer||US Army|
|Chief leader||Master sergeant||Director of the WAAC||Colonel|
|First leader||First sergeant||Assistant Director of the WAAC||Lieutenant-colonel|
|Technical leader||Technical sergeant||Field director||Major|
|Staff leader||Staff sergeant||First officer||Captain|
|Leader||Sergeant||Second officer||1st lieutenant|
|Junior leader||Corporal||Third officer||2nd lieutenant|
|Auxiliary first class||Private first class|
|Auxiliary second class||Private|
|Auxiliary third class||Recruit|
The organization was renamed the Women's Army Corps in July 1943 when it was authorized as a branch of the US Army rather than an auxiliary group. The US Army's "GI Eagle" now replaced the WAAC's Rising Eagle as the WAC's cap badge. The WAC received the same rank insignia and pay as men later that September and received the same pay allowances and deductions as men in late October. They were also the first women officers in the army allowed to wear officer's insignia; the Army Nursing Corps didn't receive permission to do so until 1944.
The WAC had its own branch insignia (the Bust of Pallas Athena), worn by "Branch Immaterial" personnel (those unassigned to a Branch of Service). US Army policy decreed that technical and professional WAC personnel should wear their assigned Branch of Service insignia to reduce confusion. During the existence of the WAC (1943 to 1978) women were prohibited from being assigned to the combat arms branches of the Army - such as the Infantry, Cavalry, Armor, Tank Destroyers, or Artillery and could not serve in a combat area. However, they did serve as valuable staff in their headquarters and staff units stateside or in England.
The army's technician grades were technical and professional specialists similar to the later specialist grade. Technicians had the same insignia as NCOs of the same grade but had a "T" insignia (for "technician") beneath the chevrons. They were considered the same grade for pay but were considered a half-step between the equivalent pay grade and the next lower regular pay grade in seniority, rather than sandwiched between the junior enlisted (i.e., private - private first class) and the lowest NCO grade of rank (viz., corporal), as the modern-day specialist (E-4) is today. Technician grades were usually mistaken for their superior NCO counterparts due to the similarity of their insignia, creating confusion.
There were originally no warrant officers in the WAC in July, 1943. Warrant officer appointments for army servicewomen were authorized in January 1944. In March 1944 six WACs were made the first WAC Warrant Officers - as administrative specialists or band leaders. The number grew to 10 by June, 1944 and to 44 by June, 1945. By the time the war officially ended in September 1945, there were 42 WAC warrant officers still in Army service. There was only a trickle of appointments in the late 1940s after the war.
Most WAC officers were company-grade officers (lieutenants and captains), as the WAC were deployed as separate or attached detachments and companies. The field grade officers (majors and lieutenant-colonels) were on the staff under the director of the WAC, its solitary colonel. Officers were paid by pay band rather than by grade or rank and didn't receive a pay grade until 1955.
|WAC ranks (September, 1943 - 1945)|
|Pay Grade||Enlisted WAC||Monthly pay||Yearly pay||WAC officers||Monthly pay||Yearly pay|
|Grade 1||Master sergeant||$138||$1656||Colonel||$333||$4000|
|Grade 1||First sergeant||$138||$1656||Lieutenant colonel||$291||$3500|
|Grade 2||Technical sergeant||$114||$1368||Major||$250||$3000|
|Grade 3||Staff sergeant||$96||$1152||Captain||$200||$2400|
|Grade 3||Technician 3rd grade||$96||$1152||1st lieutenant||$166||$2000|
|Grade 4||Sergeant||$78||$936||2nd lieutenant||$150||$1800|
|Grade 4||Technician 4th grade||$78||$936||Chief warrant officer||$175||$2100|
|Grade 5||Corporal||$66||$792||Warrant officer (junior grade)||$150||$1800|
|Grade 5||Technician 5th grade||$66||$792|
|Grade 6||Private first class||$54||$648|
|o||Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby||(1942-1945)|
|o||Colonel Westray Battle Boyce||(1945-1947)|
|o||Colonel Mary A. Hallaren||(1947-1953)|
|o||Colonel Irene O. Galloway||(1953-1957)|
|o||Colonel Mary Louise Rasmuson||(1957-1962)|
|o||Colonel Emily C. Gorman||(1962-1966)|
|o||Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington||(1966-1971)|
|o||Brigadier General Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey||(1971-1975)|
|o||Brigadier General Mary E. Clarke||(1975-1978)|
The Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association--Army Women's United (WACVA) was organized in August 1947. Women who have served honorably in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) or the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and those who have served or are serving honorably in the United States Army, the United States Army Reserve, or the Army National Guard of the United States, are eligible to be members. The association is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization representing women who "served their country in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Persian Gulf Bosnia and in Iraq and Afghanistan." WACVA sponsors an annual national convention and projects honoring women veterans. Local chapters of WACVA focus on volunteer work in Veterans Administration Hospitals and Community Service in the local and national community. The organization's newsletter THE CHANNEL "keeps the members aware of our national business, projects and pertinent veterans information." 
Colonel Geraldine Pratt May (b.1895 - d.1997 [served 1942-19). In March, 1943 May became one of the first female officers assigned to the Army Air Forces, serving as WAC Staff Director to the Air Transport Command. In 1948 she was promoted to Colonel (the first woman to hold that rank in the Air Force) and became Director of the WAF in the US Air Force, the first to hold the position.
Lt. Col. Charity Adams was the first commissioned African-American WAC and the second to be promoted to the rank of major. Promoted to major in 1945, she commanded the segregated all-female 6888th Central Postal Battalion in Birmingham, England. The 6888th landed with the follow-on troops during D-Day and were stationed in Rouen and then Paris during the invasion of France. It was the only African-American WAC unit to serve overseas during World War II.
Lt. Col. Harriet West Waddy (b.1904-d.1999 [served 1942-1952]) was one of only two African-American women in the WAC to be promoted to the rank of major. Due to her earlier experience serving with director Mary McLeod Bethune of the Bureau of Negro Affairs, she became Colonel Culp's aide on race relations in the WAC. After the war, she was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1948.
Lt. Col. Eleanore C. Sullivan [served 1952-1955] was WAC Center and WAC School commander located at Fort McClellan.
Lieutenant Colonel Florence K. Murray served at WAC headquarters during World War II. She became the first female judge in Rhode Island in 1956. In 1977 she was the first woman to be elected as a justice of the Supreme Court of Rhode Island.
In January, 1943, Captain Frances Keegan Marquis became the first to command a women's expeditionary force, the 149th WAAC Post Headquarters Company. Serving in General Eisenhower's North African headquarters in Algiers, this group of about 200 women performed secretarial, driving, postal, and other non-combat duties. An Army history called this company "one of the most highly qualified WAAC groups ever to reach the field. Hand-picked and all-volunteer, almost all members were linguists as well as qualified specialists, and almost all eligible for officer candidate school."
Captain Dovey Johnson Roundtree was among 39 African-American women recruited by Dr. Mary Bethune for the first WAACs officer training class. Roundtree was responsible for recruiting African-American women. After leaving the Army, she went to Howard University law school and became a prominent civil rights lawyer in Washington, D.C. She was also one of the first women ordained in the A.M.E. Church.
Sgt. Vashti R. Rutledge performed administrative work at the Army-Navy Staff College in Washington, DC. In March, 1944 WO(JG) Rutledge was one of the first six WACs to be granted a Warrant Officer's warrant.
Chief Warrant Officer 4 Elizabeth C. Smith USAF (WAC / USAAF 1944-1947, WAF / USAF 1948-1964) was one of the first WAF warrant officers in 1948.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Jeanne Y. Pace, was the longest-serving female in the army and the last active duty soldier who was a part of the WAC as of 2011. Her final assignment was Bandmaster of the 1st Cavalry Division where she retired after 41 years of service. She is also a recipient of the Daughters of the American Revolution Margaret Cochran Corbin Award which was established to pay tribute to women in all branches of the military for their extraordinary service with previous recipients including Major Tammy Duckworth, Major General Gale Pollock, and Lt General Patricia Horoho.
Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby, director of the WAACs, declared today that there is 'no foundation of truth' for the report that contraceptives and prophylactics will be furnished to the women in her organization. Col. Hobby's statement was made to refute the report which this column printed yesterday.
Lately another variety of buckshot has been aimed at the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps which is fast becoming the clay pigeon of the armed forces. The new story is ludicrous as well as unsanitary, but a lot of otherwise level-headed typewriter flailers have taken cognizance of it, so I guess it requires a little more counter-testimony from one who has seen and known the WAACs in North Africa.