This text explains the origins of the women’s auxiliary military branches. Each group became an extension of a branch of the United States military. It explains the various jobs and stations available for women during the 1940s. It also includes personal accounts about some servicewomen.
…In May 1942 officials established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), giving women auxiliary but not military status. Auxiliary status meant that women did not receive the same pay, legal protection, or benefits as men. Females did get military status when the army disbanded the WAAC and established the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in July 1943…
…A common theme on recruitment posters for women was “free a man to fight.” Although women in the military did not serve in World War II combat, their service in other positions allowed many men to fight overseas. Women held jobs such as bakers, clerks, control tower operators, cooks, cryptographers, dental technicians, drivers, instructors, laboratory technicians, mechanics, nurses, parachute riggers, pharmacists, photographers, radiomen, spies, storekeepers, X-ray technicians, and more…
…Anna Jean Coomes Woods, of western North Carolina, served in the WAVES from November 1943 to July 1946 in Classified Communications and Personnel. She recalled being too thin to pass the WAVES physical. She ate nothing but bananas and milk shakes for several days to gain weight. Woods did finally join the WAVES, in spite of only gaining one pound and becoming sick from all the bananas and shakes.
The women who served during World War II faced challenges. Often their parents, other family members, and friends did not want them to join the military because of slander and rumor campaigns, which accused women who joined to be of low morals. Many people felt women who served in the military would not make good mothers. The military often treated them like schoolgirls instead of mature women. Females were held to higher educational, moral, and skills standards than men. African American women faced not only gender but race discrimination.
…They joined the military for a number of reasons—to work, to learn new job skills, to travel, to better their lives, to earn more money, and to contribute to the war effort. Their time in the military made them more self-confident and independent, and it opened up new opportunities. After the war, many former servicewomen took advantage of the GI Bill to further their educations and enter careers that had previously been closed to them. They rightly considered themselves trailblazers and pioneers for the women who later served during the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf wars, and in the modern military.
Citation: Trojanowski, Hermann J. “Women Step Up to Serve.” Reprinted with permission from the Tar Heel Junior Historian, Spring 2008. https://www.ncpedia.org/history/20th-Century/wwii-women. Accessed 22 August 2023.
- Why did the formation of the WAC create an important shift for women in the United States military?
- What jobs were available to women in the military during World War II?
- According to the text, why might it be worth joining the military for women despite facing discrimination and other challenges?
WAAC: Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
Cryptographers: those who break secret codes or ciphers to figure out their meaning
Parachute riggers: those who maintain and repair parachutes
Slander: unproven accusations against someone
Trailblazers: pioneers in any field or profession