Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Inspiring Women of History: The Wacky WACs

By Kristi Waterworth

Feel Delicious is about empowering women to be all they can be, and I think there's no better representation of that in modern American history than the Women's Army Corps (WAC). This elite group of women served beside the United States Army before women were allowed to be in the army, doing many of the same tasks that had been formerly assigned to men. The WAC faced great opposition, but it also served as a shining example for women and girls of the 1940's and 1950's; no longer did they have only kitchens and infants to look forward to – they could have proper careers, they could have adventures and all because the women of the WAC seized an opportunity when it presented itself.
 

The WAC was the brain child of Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers, who introduced a bill in 1941 with the expressed goal of establishing a women's Army corps that was completely detached from the Army Nurse Corps. As you can imagine, there was incredible uproar, especially among Southern men in Congress. "Who will then do the cooking, the washing, the mending, the humble homey tasks to which every woman has devoted herself; who will nurture the children?" they asked during the floor debates.




The bill passed, though, largely in part because of a sudden, unexpected attack on Pearl Harbor that dragged America into World War II. The WAC, although working for less pay and receiving fewer benefits than their male counterparts, moved into the jobs left behind by men who were going overseas. WACs were generally well-educated college graduates with extensive office or teaching experience. A few, like my grandmother and the first WAC Major, Oveta Culp Hobby, were journalists.


Despite the positive impact the WAC had on the army, they were violently opposed by the public. Men accused women in the WAC of being lesbians or prostitutes, secretly fearing that WACs would fill up all the safer jobs and force them onto the battlefields. Unlike those men, the WACs who served overseas did so without overseas pay, government-issued life insurance, medical coverage or death benefits – and they didn't qualify for Veterans' benefits when they left the Army. On top of that, a woman even suspected of being pregnant was immediately discharged with no explanation. Times were tough for the WACs.

The going wasn't easy, but that first class of WACs did their duty because they believed in something greater. Standing together, all 150,000 of them, these women followed their brothers and husbands into danger, into a war on a scale like never before. World War II was a total war, complete with all the latest technology – to anyone who witnessed it, it could only be described as a hellish blood bath. Hitler was a very real and very frightening enemy, so much so that every possible hand was needed to defeat him. Even though they weren't allowed in combat, the WACs freed up men to fight by doing vital non-combat jobs that required they gathered information, kept communications open, repaired rifles and machinery and provided secretarial assistance in scattered locations.

Eventually, the tide turned and the WAC became the darlings of the media, but they still didn't get the same benefits as male soldiers. Despite the lack of proper recognition for their work, they plugged away. After the end of WWII, President Harry Truman finally recognized their efforts and signed into law the Women's Armed Services Integration Act that permitted women into the regular army. The WACs had made this possible by showing their grit despite the odds. The WACs continued on as a branch of the military, while playing important roles in Korea and Vietnam, but would be disbanded in 1978 to further efforts of sexual integration in the armed forces.


Kristi Waterworth is a freelance journalist based in Springfield, Missouri with a wide range of interests; her work frequently appears on the web and in print. Waterworth developed a long love affair with the Westerning Experience while studying American history in college. Despite the lies, intrigue and mythology intertwined with fact, the American West was a place and time like no other – the extreme adventure required an extreme response. She now seamlessly integrates her journalism skill with her history background at an irregularly updated site called Fifteen Minutes. You can also catch up with her on Facebook and, of course, here on I Feel Delicious.



2 comments:

  1. I have been speaking about WACs and women in the military for about three years after my mother and I wrote a book, "Mollie's War" about her service as a WAC stationed in Europe during WWII. As I was researching about the pay for WACs because of a question that someone asked me at a presentation I was giving, I came across your post. I noticed that while you talk about the formation of the WACs you only mention the beginning stages when they were the WAAC--Women Auxiliary Army Corps and they did not have the full benefits of the army. But then in July 1943 after General Eisenhower brought the WAACs to North Africa in January 1943, they became the WACs---Women's Army Corps and did have full benefits.
    I always enjoy seeing "It's Your War, Too". My mother had two cameo appearances in the movie at 1.20 and then again at 5.03.
    I have a website: www.mollieswar.com. I can be reached via email at cyndeeschaffer@gmail.com

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    1. That's interesting and something I didn't know. Thanks for adding to the history. I'll pass your comments on to our history writer, Kristi. This is her area and I bet she'd love to see your and your mother's work. Thanks again, Cyndee!

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