Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
Women’s Army Corps (WAC)
. I. Development of the
-. Foundation of the WAAC
-. Military Army Status
-. Strength of the WAAC/WAC
-. Postwar WAC
Development of the WAAC and WAC
Foundation of the WAAC
WAAC recruting poster 1943 Before Pearl Harbor was attacked the first legislation regarding the creation of a special Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) as a military-affiliated organization was introduced by Congresswomen Edith Nourse Rogers in 1941. Because of other more pressing issues of the Congress it wasn’t taken into account within the same year. 

At the beginning of 1942 Mrs. Rogers introduced another bill regarding the same topic. The idea earned a lot of disapproval and prejudices by Army members as well as civil representatives. Especially her amendment suggesting a military status earned harsh criticism. It wasn’t conceivable that women who were not nurses could serve in the Army.

However, the Army actually needed women to free soldiers for combat duty overseas. So despite all rejections the Congress established the Women Army Auxiliary Corps on 14 May 1942 by Public Law (PL) No.77-544. The law passed with a slight majority of 11 votes. The demand of a military status was too progressive to find consent. Just an auxiliary organization with the immediate strength of 25,000 women was authorized, with an ultimate strength of 150,000 when needed. 
The WAAC received its own distinctive auxiliary grade titles as well as its own WAAC regulations patterned after Army regulations but taking the special tasks and demands of a women’s organization into account. 

On 15 May 1942 Oveta Culp Hobby became first Director of the WAAC. Her leadership determined development of the organization during the following years. 

Source: Ladies in Uniform by Margaret Sprague, Acwell Press, 1943.
WAAC grade officers Equivalent Army Grade WAAC grade enlisted Equivalent Army Grade
Director Colonel First Leader Master Sergeant and First Sergeant
Assistant directors Lieutenant Colonel Technical leader Technical Sergeant
Field directors Major Staff Leader  Staff Sergeant
First officer  Captain Leader Sergeant
Second officer First Lieutenant Junior Leader Corporal
Third Officer Second Lieutenant Auxiliary, 1st class Private, 1st class
    Auxiliary Private
A recruitment brochure from February 1943 states:” It is a corps of women in military uniform and under military discipline organized for noncombat service with the Army” … It offers American women, regardless of race, color or creed, an exceptional opportunity for service.” (Brochure: “This is our war … Join the WAAC”, LX 93-RPB-2-26-43-500M)
Unfortunately, discrimination still existed. Official orders limited the number of colored women accepted for the service to a maximum of ten percent of the total WAC strength. It was feared that too many members of non-white race could deter the most desired, well educated, white middle-class women to join the WAC. As in the Army, personnel of non-white races usually trained and served in segregated units. Equality was a difficult process and the Army was afraid of creating racial conflicts if too progressive. At least, minority women had better chances of good payment and promotion than in civil life. However, due to the poorer social background with less good education, colored members of the WAC were more often assigned to unattraktiv monotonous jobs or hard work.

Military Army Status
WAC recruiting poster During December 1942 the first WAAC members rendered overseas duties in North Africa within Eisenhower’s theatre headquarters. Next to others, this new special situation caused consideration to integrate the Women’s Corps into the Army. So far women serving abroad weren’t treated like Army servicemen. They didn’t get overseas payment nor could they receive government life insurance. Also these women had no protection if they became ill, wounded or captured. 

Therefore, in January 1943, a law was introduced and approved on 14 February to place WAAC personnel completely under Army jurisdiction. Nevertheless, members of Congress had objections and several questions about details of conversion produced six months of debate and compromises. On 3 July 1943 the WAC bill was signed into law (Public Law 78-110). It established the Women’s Army Corps as integral part of the Army of the United States and became effective on 1 September 1943.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was transformed into the Women’s Army Corps. With full military status the auxiliary grade titles were deleted and replaced by common Army ranks. WAAC director Oveta Culp Hobby became a commissioned colonel of the Army on the United States on 5 July 1943. Now WACs obtained the same pay, allowance, benefits and privileges as Army men. In contrast, previous WAAC personnel sometimes received only about half as much pay as an Army member doing an equivalent job in the first month after the foundation of the WAAC. Source: 73 questions and answers about the WAC (LB-X-22-RPB-12-31-43-500M)
Winnie the WAC
... The integration of the women’s unit necessitated special additions to Army regulations regarding WAC service.  For example. it determined a clear limitation to noncombat duties only. To avoid high positioned women in the Army it was prescribed that the director of the WAC could not be promoted above the grade of colonel, other WAC officers could not promoted above lieutenant colonel and enlisted could not promoted above master sergeant. It was claimed that higher positions would require combat training and experience which men were only supposed to receive. Additionally, WAC officers were only allowed to command WAC units only. 

These regulations were designed to prevent a man in the Army from having to follow orders of a woman – a distasteful scenario for men of these times.

Source: Winnie the WAC by Cpl. Vic Herman, 1945

"Winnie the WAC" cartoons were published weekly in Camp newspapers (later compiled together in a book shown above). "Winnie" was very popular with soldiers and WAC members. The cartoon kidded male fears and prejudices against women in service as well as humorously pointing out special female experiences with their service life. 

Winnie the WAC

Strength of the WAAC/WAC
Source: This is our war ... Join the WAAC (LX 93-RPB-2-26-43-500M) When the WAAC was founded President Roosevelt set 25,000 members as the goal to achieve by 30 June 1943. This number was already topped on November 1942. In view of this recruiting success and the confirmed esteem of the work provided by the WAAC, the full strength of 150,000 was authorized as goal for July 1943.

Recruiting standards were lowered despite disapproval of Director Hobby in January 1943 to speed up the number of recruitments. Only three months later the consequences were obvious because a high number of unskilled and untrainable women entered the WAC. So Director Hobby was delegated to restore higher standards in the following months.

In June 1943 approximately 60,000 women belonged to the WAC. This was less than half of the envisioned total strength of 150,000.
There were causes for reduced recruitments apart from the reintroduction of the higher recruitment standards. The Women’s Army Corps had to compete with other women’s military organizations of the Navy, Coast Guard and Marines as well as with civilian home industries that also needed replacements for drafted male staff. 
The conversion to military status caused further personnel losses. Each woman had to reenlist if she wanted to stay in the service with the WAC. Many women who were dissatisfied with their WAAC life took the chance to get out. Common reasons were problems with assignments, the discipline or the long work day, homesickness and restricted possibilities to meet suitable men.

Additionally a dirty slander campaign that started in spring 1943 hurt the reputation of the WAC. Obscene jokes, gossip and rumors about doubtful moral character and behavior, as well as open hostile attitude of male soldiers and officers, aggravated  duties for the WAC. Civilian circles took over and spread the rumors in abundance. Comparatively harmless was a nickname like “wacks”. (How to become a lady in uniform, p.16). 

However, it was not long until the WAC proved that it was not just an extravagant extra but valuable assistance that no one wanted to miss anymore.

Winnie the WAC cartoon by Cpl. Vic Herman

Not only WAC members were target of imputed immoral behavior - other women in service like the Navy WAVES had to face jokes and gossip too.

Strength of the WAAC/WAC
End of Month Total Commissioned Officers Warrant Officers Enlisted
Dec 1942 12,767 1,545 0 11,222
Jun 1943 60,243 4,917 55,326
Jun 1944 77,152 5,855 10 71,287
Jun 1945 95,957 5,733 44 90,180
Jun 1946 17,896 1,793 18  16,699
(Source: Strength of the Army Reports (STM-30) June 1942-1959)

Postwar WAC

The length of service for the WAC was limited to the duration of war plus a period not longer than 6 months afterwards. Then the Women’s Army Corps was planned to be totally demobilized. But in May 1945 the first endeavors were made to give women reserve status.  After the end of the war, the occupation forces faced many difficulties and needed to keep their specialists, including WAC members. Other Allied governments already planned to continue their women’s corps in postwar times. Intense debates and controversies within the Army, as well as within Congress, followed with compromises. Among the questions were: should the WAC be discontinued or included in the Organized Reserve Corps, or even in the Regular Army. Should only officers, or also some specialists or even all enlisted WAC personnel have the option to be included in the postwar Army or a Reserve force.

Army Chief of Staff Eisenhower had excellent experiences as a commanding general with the WAC overseas and supported the idea of a retention of the Women’s Army Corps. On 5 February 1946, he directed the Army Personnel Office to seek postwar introduction of women into the Regular Army and the Reserve. But this process involved countless intense discussions filled with prejudices and disapproval. Finally, in July 1948, the WAC actually became an integral part of the permanent Army establishment and also got reserve status. Nevertheless, servicewomen never received status equal to that accorded to servicemen. Their number, promotion possibilities and command authorities were still restricted and training and duty limited to noncombat activities. 

Col. Mary Hallaren (WAC Director, 1947-1953) died Feb. 13, 2005
read newspaper article (March 4, 2005 Washington Post)

[ I. Development ]..[ II. Facts about the WAC ]..[ III. Uniforms ]..[ IV. Sources ]