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Women in the Army

They had names like Lon and Ray and Tennison and Dollins. They came from New York and Texas and Oklahoma and Nevada. They were single or divorced, educated or not so much, and they all had one thing in common.

They wanted to serve their country in time of war.

And they did. Officially. Starting 71 years ago today.

They were among the first enlistees of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), given official military status as of 15 May 1942, when President Roosevelt signed into law the first federal statute enabling women to serve officially in noncombat positions.

The bill enabling creation of the WAAC was first introduced in 1941 by Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts.1 She was the daughter of a United States Senator and wife of a Congressman who ran to fill her husband’s unexpired seat when he died in 1925 in the middle of his term of office. She became the first female member of the House of Representatives from Massachusetts.2

The bill creating the WAAC passed the Congress on 14 May 1942 and was signed the next day.3 It provided

That the President is hereby authorized to establish and organize in such units as he may from time to time determine to be necessary a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps for noncombatant service with the Army of the United States for the purpose of making available to the national defense when needed the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of this Nation. The total number of women enrolled or appointed in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps shall not exceed the number authorized from time to time by the President, and in no event shall exceed one hundred fifty thousand.4

An electronic database of Army enlistments — including WAAC enlistments — is in the National Archives.5 It’s also available on Ancestry.com. While many of the original military records perished in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, most of the enlistment data is readily available.

And there you will find them.

Women like Mary W. Lon, born in 1911, a resident of Kings County (Brooklyn), New York, single, shown as a stenographer or typist in civilian life with four years of college, who enlisted at New York City on 18 May 1942.6

Like Pearl E. Ray, born in 1909, a resident of Washoe County, Nevada, divorced, a clerk with three years of high school, who signed up in San Francisco on 25 May 1942.7

Like Clara H. Tennison, born in 1915, a resident of Payne County, Oklahoma, single, a teacher with four years of college, who enlisted 30 May 1942 in San Antonio, Texas.8

Like Dorothy D. Dollins, born in 1918, a resident of Okmulgee County, Oklahoma, single, three years of high school, who signed up at Oklahoma City on 30 May 1942.9

You can even find the enlistment record of Oveta C. Hobby, born in 1899, a lawyer from Washington D.C., who enlisted the very first day the WAAC bill was law10 — and who was the very first commanding officer of the new WAAC, sworn in on 16 May 1942.11

The first training center for the WAAC began operating in July 1942 at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, with 125 enlisted women and 440 officer candidates as trainees. African-American women served in both the enlisted and officer ranks, in segregated units. From all walks of life, women aged 21 to 45 volunteered in numbers exceeding all expectations. 12

Initially, the WAAC wasn’t formally part of the Army: “The corps shall not be a part of the Army, but it shall be the only women’s organization authorized to serve with the Army, exclusive of the Army Nurse Corps.”13 If WAACs were sent overseas, they didn’t get the overseas pay the men got, and if they were killed, there was no death benefit to their parents, spouses or children.14

But in 1943, Rep. Rogers introduced more legislation to integrate what then was designated the Women’s Army Corps into the Army itself. Signed into law on 1 July 1943, the law provided “That there is hereby established in the Army of the United States, for the period of the present war and for six months thereafter or for such shorter period as the Congress by concurrent resolution or the President by proclamation shall prescribe, a component to be known as the ‘Women’s Army Corps’.”15 Oveta Hobby became its first director as well, sworn in with the rank of Colonel on 5 July 1943.16

Women in the military.17 Officially. And it began 71 years ago today.


 
SOURCES

  1. WAAC/WAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC),” Women in the U.S. Army, Army.mil (http://www.army.mil/ : accessed 14 May 2013).
  2. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.com), “Edith Nourse Rogers,” rev. 25 Apr 2013.
  3. WAAC/WAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC),” Women in the U.S. Army, Army.mil (http://www.army.mil/ : accessed 14 May 2013).
  4. § 1, “AN ACT To establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps for service with the Army of the United States,” 56 Stat. 278 (1942).
  5. See “World War II Army Enlistment Records, ca. 1938-1946,” Record Group 64: Records of the National Archives and Records Administration; Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 14 May 2013).
  6. Ibid., enlistment record of Mary W. Lon; database, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 14 May 2013).
  7. Ibid., enlistment record of Pearl E. Ray; database, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 14 May 2013).
  8. Ibid., enlistment record of Clara H. Tennison; database, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 14 May 2013).
  9. Ibid., enlistment record of Dorothy D. Dollins; database, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 14 May 2013).
  10. Ibid., enlistment record of Oveta C. Hobby; database, Archives.gov (http://www.archives.gov : accessed 14 May 2013).
  11. WAAC/WAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC),” Women in the U.S. Army, Army.mil (http://www.army.mil/ : accessed 14 May 2013).
  12. Ibid.
  13. § 12, “AN ACT To establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps for service with the Army of the United States,” 56 Stat. 278 (1942).
  14. WAAC/WAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC),” Women in the U.S. Army, Army.mil (http://www.army.mil/ : accessed 14 May 2013).
  15. “AN ACT To establish a Women’s Army Corps for service in the Army of the United States,” 57 Stat. 371 (1943).
  16. WAAC/WAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC),” Women in the U.S. Army, Army.mil (http://www.army.mil/ : accessed 14 May 2013).
  17. For more information generally about women in the U.S. Army, including the unofficial service of women as far back as 1775, see Women in the U.S. Army (http://www.army.mil/women/ : accessed 14 May 2013).
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