From 1776 to World War II
On the hot and sticky morning of Monday, 20 July 1942, the green parade ground at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, was lush with grass, daisies, gnats, and members of the press. The photographers required the most supervision because of their tendencies toward photographing female underwear or latrine scenes. There were representatives of four press associations, nineteen newspapers, four foreign news organizations, six motion picture companies, and two photographic services, plus many well-known writers. The occasion was the opening of the United States Army's first training center for women.
Centuries of evolution in warfare and in society had been required to make possible this unprecedented event. From the days of the American Revolution to the early twentieth century, there could be found little serious consideration of a women's corps in the United States Army. For the pioneer woman, home defense was a readily acceptable activity, but it had no connection in the public mind with an organized military corps of women.
However, from the earliest days there were innumerable popular stories of females who had disguised themselves well enough to enlist in the Army as individuals. None of these stories could be verified from Army files, and they apparently occurred more often in legend than in fact, but there was evidence that not all were fictional. The American Congress went so far as to recognize the claims of one Revolutionary soldier, Deborah Sampson Gannett, by granting her husband a widow's pension.
Every succeeding war had its Molly Pitchers, most of whom made good copy for the young American press. Nineteenth century newspapers reveled in such headlines as SERVED BY HER LOVER'S SIDE, or THE DEAD SOLDIER WAS A WOMAN. According to these accounts, the Union Army inadvertently awarded some women the Kearny Cross and the Confederacy placed others on a Roll of Honor. One Confederate wife, declaring that she was "perfectly wild about war," was said to have donned a false mustache and successfully raised and commanded a regiment of recruits. Such stories were legion, but scarcely of help to later Army planners.1
Of more significance for the future were scattered cases in which, because of an actual need for women's skills, the Army employed groups of civilian women as nurses, laundresses, clerks, and emergency aides of many types, sometimes in uniforms of their own devising. It was not unusual, for example, that each regiment of the Braddock expedition was allowed some forty women employees, one ration
per woman. In 1775 General Washington sponsored a bill that created a hospital department for the Army and allowed it to pay civilian nurses approximately twenty-five cents a day. In time of emergency, civilian women of prominence and reputation continued to nurse the sick, sew, operate canteens, and lend what assistance their skills permitted. However, for a reputable woman to accept such employment was often considered daring in view of the danger of confusion with the more numerous women camp followers, whose ill repute was apt to attach itself to any female employee. In later wars, the employment of women became more common; drill, mascot, and social groups were also organized, complete with uniforms and sometimes rifles.2
There was a very clear distinction in the Army's and the public's minds between such groups and a corps of women with soldiers' legal status, rights, and discipline. Just before the nation's entry into the first World War, the Army stated positively:
No official record has been found in the War Department showing specifically that any woman was ever enlisted in the military service of the United States as a member of any organization of the Regular or Volunteer Army. It is possible, however, that there may have been a few instances of women having served as soldiers for a short time without their sex having been detected, but no record of such cases is known to exist in the official files. Women were often employed as laundresses and as nurses, but they were merely civilians while so engaged and were in no sense in the military service of the United States.3
Total War and the Industrial Resolution
Serious consideration of an official women's corps was scarcely possible before the twentieth century. Until then, war was not organized and mechanized to an extent that required more manpower than a nation could provide from among its men; the great supply systems and fixed headquarters of total war were yet to come. Also, women were skilled in few duties that would have been useful to an army even had it needed manpower, and few women felt it proper to practice even their traditional tasks of cooking and nursing outside the home.
Both reasons were swept away in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the industrial revolution that mechanized men's wars also taught women to work outside the home. Long before the Army began to consider the admittance of women, businesses and factories had employed them and had trained them as clerks, typists, telephone operators, and technicians. Some such fields were in fact taken over by women so completely that by the time of the first World War it was already difficult for the Army to find any number of competent male typists and telephone operators.
Nevertheless, there remained considerable room for doubt as to the value of woman as a military employee. Industry's experience had produced the general impression that women were suited only for work of limited responsibility: that "women won't work for women" and certainly that men would not; that a woman employee was handicapped by a weaker constitution and more frequent ailments. Business surveys as late as 1942 confirmed the fact that women supervisors were unpopular with employees because of alleged
deficiencies in leadership. Army planners also noted delicately that a woman had a "physiological handicap which renders her abnormal, unstable, etc., at certain times." 4 Medical statistics indicated that women were in general smaller than men in stature, lighter in weight, less in average weight of skeletal muscles and heart, lower in basal metabolism, and with only about 60 percent the strength to lift, grip, or pull loads.5
It therefore was a matter for grave consideration whether an Army would be justified in accepting women into military positions where unreliability would be not merely uneconomical but disastrous, even though farm and factory were thereby stripped of their last man. In the relatively flexible civilian economy, a woman might soften in many ways her adjustment to difficult work, but in the rigid military framework, adaptation would be an all-or-nothing affair. There would be no easy absenteeism, home privacy and comforts, or choice of working conditions, nor yet the privilege of quitting a demanding job.
Even if these handicaps proved exaggerated, there was one obstacle that was not-the opposition of the American public. The Army did not operate in the vacuum of a dictatorship, but in a nation, society, and culture whose traditions must be considered. The course of public opinion regarding woman's place had by no means kept pace with her economic progress. The saying was still frequently heard that "woman's place is in the home," and it appeared certain that there would be great public opposition to placing women in soldier's jobs and in positions of rank and command. Army psychiatrists later noted that "in order for women to gain an active participation in military activities it was necessary for man to change his basic concept of the feminine role, to overcome his fear of ' women generals.' " 6 Army planners realized that such an obstacle existed, but it was not until after the establishment of a women's corps that its full extent was to be revealed.
The Army Nurse Corps
First to take the field against these obstacles was the Army Nurse Corps, whose development provided a close parallel to later WAC events. The admitted superiority of female nursing first caused acceptance of nurses as civilian employees, but in war after war it was found extremely difficult to maintain a civilian group within a military organization. Much inefficiency in Civil War medical care was believed due to "the lack of a single unified Nurse Corps with official status." In the Spanish-American War, it was noted that "unified direction and control within the Army framework itself was the only way to avoid administrative confusion and to assure maximum efficiency." 7
Such full admission was delayed chiefly by popular opposition to military status for females, which led one early organizer to remark, "The nurse question is the women question; we shall have to run the
gantlet of those historic rotten eggs." 8 In 1901 Congress established the Army Nurse Corps, with somewhat the same status as the later Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)-a military organization, but without Army rank, officer status, equal pay, or Army benefits such as retirement and veteran's rights. After the first World War its members were given relative rank and some retirement benefits, although pay and allowances still were not those of the men. Full military rank was not to be granted to nurses until 1944, a year after the WAAC had been legally admitted to full Army status and rank as the Women's Army Corps (WAC). 9
Nevertheless, in placing nurses in a militarized and uniformed corps, the nation had taken one long step toward admission of women to full membership in the armed forces. Neither the public nor the Army was prepared to take further steps; the serious proposal for the establishment of the Women's Army Corps waited for the day when some great war that would almost drain the pool of American manpower should coincide with an availability of women workers trained in the modern skills an army required.
World War I
The first World War narrowly missed being that occasion. The first pinch of manpower shortage was felt chiefly by American industry and business, but by the end of 1918 the military services were also seriously concerned. The British, whose war effort was more nearly total, had already established women's auxiliaries in several of their services, and there was considerable evidence that had the war lasted a few months longer the United
States might have done likewise. At the moment of the Armistice, the War Department General Staff was beset by serious proposals to this effect from both within and without the Army. 10
One of the first of these proposals was initiated by the American Expeditionary Force in France. On 8 October 1917, General Pershing cabled a request for one hundred women telephone operators who could speak French and recommended that they be uniformed. This request was approved and the women were sent as civilian contract employees with privileges very similar to those of the Army Nurse Corps. Subsequently other groups were sent overseas, under varying contracts, by The Quartermaster General, the Ordnance Department, and the Medical Corps, but none had military status. In spite of extensive use of these groups, and of French women for unskilled work, the labor shortage of the AEF continued. 11
At the same time, numerous civilian volunteer welfare groups, using over 5,000 American women, thrived and multiplied overseas in an un-co-ordinated manner, and appeared to the Army to be striving through competitive publicity to show what they had done for "the boys." While Army reports recorded almost no criticism of the conduct of these women, they did
criticize the lack of orderly administration, the overlapping of duties, and the absence of any Army control. The confusion in the welfare groups was in striking contrast to the organized service given by members of the British Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, the largest of the British auxiliaries, whose services were lent to the AEF when the need for women's skills grew desperate. American Army officers in later years remembered favorably the discipline, efficiency, and esprit de corps of the British women's services.12
In still further attempts to solve the AEF's labor shortages, the commanding general of the AEF's Services of Supply, Maj. Gen. James G. Harbord, cabled repeatedly to the War Department in August of 1918 for authority to send a representative to the United States to recruit and organize a group of 5,000 women clerical workers to replace enlisted men. The representative was sent, followed by a proposal from the AEF that a women's service corps be organized as a part of the Army Service Corps. After considerable War Department debate as to whether the women should be enlisted, Civil Service, or uniformed contract employees, General Harbord was informed that, because of the change in draft age, 5,000 limited service men would be sent instead of the women. Concerning a women's corps, the War Department stated that it was not yet convinced of "the desirability or feasibility of making this most radical departure in the conduct of our military affairs." 13
Meanwhile, strong supporting action for the AEF's effort came from posts and camps and from headquarters agencies in the United States. All Army and National Guard cantonments and camps had previously been forbidden to employ civilian women in any capacity except as nurses.14
In the face of pleas from station commanders, this ruling was soon modified to authorize civilian employment of women "in essential work for which men employees cannot be obtained . . . taking only those of mature age and high moral character." 15 The War Department noted, "With careful supervision, women employees may be permitted in camps without moral injury either to themselves or to the soldiers." 16 Even with this concession, enough employees could not be procured, especially in isolated and uncomfortable stations, to perform all necessary duties. The Washington headquarters offices also found it difficult to obtain and hold an adequate number of female Civil Service employees. 17
Therefore, the conclusion was reached almost simultaneously by several Army agencies, both in Washington and in the field, that a corps of women under military control would be the solution to these problems. As The Quartermaster General pointed out concerning laundresses:
Every effort in the past of this office to provide a hired force of women at camps and cantonments has been unsatisfactory . . .
only women of doubtful character show any inclination to remain as long as the voluntary system of employment is in vogue.18
The Quartermaster General thereupon recommended that legislation be secured to authorize the enlistment of women, ages 21-45, to be organized as the Women's Auxiliary Quartermaster Corps. Similar requests, giving similar reasons, were also made by the Inspector General's Department, the Chief of Engineers, the Operations Branch of the General Staff, and the Chief of Ordnance. The Chief of Ordnance estimated that the yearly turnover of civilian employees in his branch was approaching 84 percent. Ordnance and other branches went so far as to devise the uniform to be worn by enlisted women. At a meeting with representatives of The Quartermaster General, The Surgeon General, Signal Corps, Military Aeronautics, and the Corps of Engineers, it was decided that the uniform should be of "soft silver brown wool material," with a tan pongee blouse and brown Windsor tie, and that "no furs shall be worn with the uniform." 19
These pleas did not receive favorable consideration by the War Department. Legislation to enlist "effective and able-bodied women" had in fact already been introduced in Congress in December of 1917, but had been returned to the House Military Affairs Committee by the Secretary of War with an expression of his disapproval. The memorandum upon which this opinion was based stated in unmistakable terms:
The enlistment of women in the military forces of the United
States has never been seriously contemplated and such enlistment is
considered unwise and highly undesirable
. . . the action provided for in this bill is not only unwise, but exceedingly ill-advised.
War Plans Division noted in May of 1918:
Industrial conditions in the United States are not yet in such shape that it is necessary to undertake a line of action that would be fraught with so many difficulties. 20
The War Department was equally unfavorable to an attempt by The Surgeon General to commission women doctors in the Medical Corps. The Judge Advocate General was unable to discover in the terminology of the National Defense Act any legal barrier to the appointment of women under that act. Nevertheless, the War Department's opinion was upheld on the grounds that only persons "physically, mentally, and morally qualified" could be appointed and that women doctors were obviously not physically qualified.21
The dismay of certain Army agencies at the lack of Army authority to enlist women was heightened by the Navy's action in placing the opposite interpretation upon its legislative authority and enlisting all the women it needed without further ceremony. As one Army planner later complained, "By enlisting Yeomen (F) the Navy Department ignored the Civil Service Commission and satisfied its needs regardless of the needs of others. They
WOMEN DURING WORLD WAR I served in France as telephone operators in a civilian capacity, and with the Navy and Marine Corps in the same status as men.
wanted clerks and they got them." 22 Nearly 13,000 women enlisted in the Navy and Marine Corps on the same status as men and wore a uniform blouse with insignia. These women were the first in the United States to be admitted to full military rank and status. 23
In addition to the pressure on the War Department from military advocates of the enlistment of women, there was undoubtedly some activity by organized women's groups. Prominent women in various sections of the country went so far as to organize semimilitary groups. In New York the Women's League for Self-Defense, five hundred strong and dressed in bloomers and puttees, drilled with rifles in the 66th Regimental Armory, and informed reporters that they had written Secretary of War Newton D. Baker and Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood "offering our service as the only strictly military women's organization in America." 24 The YWCA proposed that any more women sent to France be placed in a women's army corps like the British WAAC, with strict discipline and no individual billeting.25 A similar proposal came from the American Council on Education, which concluded that military status would make for fewer resignations among trainees for war jobs.26
All such proposals came to an abrupt end with the cessation of hostilities on 11 November 1918. With a one-page sigh of relief the General Staff shelved the bulky documents that had set forth the arguments pro and con, and declared:
In view of the present military situation it is believed no longer desirable that arrangements be made to form military organizations composed of women . . . . A continuance of the war would have required the United States in completing its program for the year 1919 to make a much more extended use of women . . . to replace men sent overseas or men shifted to heavy work which men alone can do.27
With this, the serious consideration of the establishment of a women's military group was relinquished to another generation of planners and to another war.
Twenty-three Years of Peace
The nation had hardly settled itself into postwar routine when it became evident that considerable political power was being wielded by the newly enfranchised female sex and its many well-organized national groups. It soon began to appear to the Army, as well as to many female leaders, that the mass of American women was dangerously susceptible to the charms of pacifism and other doctrines that advocated the abolition of the military as the best means of insuring peace.28
To stem this tide of opinion the Army sought to teach women voters more about
its own nature and purpose. To this end, Secretary Baker in 1920 created a new position under the comprehensive title of Director of Women's Relations, United States Army, with an office in G-1 Division of the General Staff: The director was to maintain liaison between the War Department and the women of the country and to secure: their co-operation by explaining to them that the Army was "a progressive, socially minded human institution" and that women voters should not "fanatically demand the dissolution of a ruthless military machine." 29 There was some consideration as to whether the: director should have military status, but the Army decided to await developments.
The first incumbent of the position resigned after one year, for personal reasons and for what her successor believed to be "dissatisfaction with the lack of support given her." 30 The next appointee. Miss Anita Phipps, the daughter of an Army family, was also dissatisfied. There ensued a decade-long battle as to whether tier position should degenerate into that of a supervisor of the Army's thirty-odd hostesses, or should be expanded into that of planner-in-chief for a women's Army corps, and first director.
Miss Phipps' difficulties, as set forth in periodic lengthy memoranda to the Secretary of War, centered around War Department failure to support her commitments and to give her military status. She thus; in her opinion, lost prestige in the eyes of powerful women's groups. She was embarrassed in the presence of Army and Navy nurses by her "undignified make-shift" of a uniform. Headquarters divisions and offices often failed to consult her when corresponding with women's organizations. General officers, when asked to speak before women's groups, ignored the careful tip sheets Miss Phipps had prepared for their guidance, and often alienated those whom she had cultivated with care. Her recommendations and staff studies were frequently filed without further action. One of her chiefs in G-1 Division went so far as to state baldly that her position should be abolished, since the male members of the General Staff were competent to plan the future utilization of women by the: military service.31
In 1929, after almost ten years of work, Miss Phipps had nevertheless secured tentative approval of a plan that would unite the support of the most powerful women's groups behind the Secretary of War by means of a system of civilian aides to the Secretary-one: chief aide, one in each corps area, and one in each state. Secretary of War Dwight F. Davis on 25 February 1929 publicly announced this plan to the press after a conference with women members of the League of Women Voters, American War Mothers, Daughters of the American Revolution. National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs, and other such groups.
There at once: arose a storm of letters from Senators and clergymen and from male civilian aides threatening to resign if women were also made civilian aides. Only fifteen days later a new Secretary of War, James W. Good, was in office and promptly sent telegrams to the women representatives, canceling the meeting of the nominating committee. This action, which in Miss Phipps' opinion greatly alienated the powerful women's groups,
was followed in October by a final letter from Mr. Good to the women concerned, regretting that "the present is not a propitious time for appointing women civilian aides." 32
Discouraged and in ill health, Miss Phipps in 1930 made a last appeal to the Secretary of War to define her duties and authority or to abolish her position. Nothing definite was done, and in 1931 her work was terminated by illness and by a new Chief of Staff, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who overrode a favorable G-1 opinion and informed the Secretary of War that he considered her duties to be of no military value.33
Plans for a Women's Service Corps
The Director of Women's Relations left behind her the first complete and workable plan for a women's corps. Over a period of several years she compiled all evidence concerning the utilization of women during World War I, including the opinions of the British, the Congress, the Navy, and various Army commands. The heart of the plan was that the proposed women's service corps should be in the Army and not an auxiliary. She rejected the then-popular idea of enlisting women and giving them a uniform and a job but no military training, organization, discipline, housing, or required courtesies. This idea, she noted, had been tried and proved undesirable by both the Navy and the British. Instead, she proposed that women be fully trained and assigned only in units under the command of women officers, with not less than a squad at any station and no individual billeting allowed. All Army Regulations were to apply, plus special regulations for women as needed. 34
By sending questionnaires to eight corps areas, three territorial departments, and eighteen chiefs of branches or similar services, Miss Phipps discovered that about 170,000 women would be wanted in wartime, although only six agencies favored giving them immediate military status.
In view of later debate about the proper jobs for women in the Army, it was significant that at this time the concept of a menial type of corps of low-grade personnel still loomed large in Army thinking. Not quite half of the requests were for clerks and stenographers; a few others were for small numbers of skilled workers such as draftsmen, dietitians, and telephone operators. The rest were chiefly for large numbers for relatively unskilled work: approximately 5,800 laundry workers, 7,000 cooks, 1,300 charwomen and janitors, 5,000 chauffeurs, 2,000 messengers, 11,000 laborers, 8,000 seamstresses, and so on.
The whole idea was rejected by the General Staff in August of 1926, although most divisions called it a "very splendid" study. 35 G-2 Division objected to the cost of housing, G-3 to difficulties in transportation and toilet facilities, and G-4 to the personnel policy involved. War Plans
Division suggested that the study be used only as a basis for further study and planning.
Throughout the comments of the entire General Staff ran the conviction that the mobilization of the United States would be a leisurely affair. G-4 Division noted: "To consider the development of a training organization for women workers in the beginning of a major emergency appears unthinkable." 36
A more powerful reason for private opposition among officers of the General Staff was noted by the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1, Brig. Gen. Campbell King. General King wrote personally to the Chief of Staff that Miss Phipps seemed to wish to perfect within the Army an organization of women, headed by a woman; with a hierarchy of subheads plus influential civilian advisers, which would constitute "a powerful machine difficult to control and endowed with possibilities of hampering and embarrassing the War Department." 37
Oddly enough, during a decade when neither a military corps nor a civilian advisory group could receive approval, a few women somewhat accidentally fell heir to the full blessings of Army status. When, in a more or less routine order, the supposedly all-male category of Army field clerks was blanketed into military service, it was found to include a handful of women employees. While this occurrence was scarcely noted on the planning level and was never considered a precedent for an organized women's corps, the few individuals concerned were later held by the Comptroller General to have been full-fledged members of the military service, with the same status as the Navy yeomanettes. Later, Congress amended the armed forces' legislation to place the word male before persons, thus effectually guaranteeing that neither the yeomanette nor the field clerk episode would be repeated without its sanction.38
The Hughes Plan
Male planners up to this time had not come to very close grips with the problem of planning for a women's corps. While students at the Army War College had studied a course entitled "Conservation by Utilization of Women in Industry, in Military Service, and in Welfare Work," it was ordinarily assumed that such "Conservation" would be most appropriately left to industry. The chief Army planner for a women's corps was appointed in 1928; he was Maj. Everett S. Hughes of G-1 Division. General Staff. 39
Pointing out that nothing but fruitless conflict had resulted from previous arguments between extreme feminists on the one side and male die-hards on the other, all disagreeing endlessly over minor details, Major Hughes proposed acceptance of the fact that women would inevitably play a part in the next war-the more nearly total the war, the greater the part. No amount of wishful thinking could avert that necessity, powered as it was by social and economic trends beyond the nation's powers to reverse.
On the other hand, he stated, the Army should not attempt a detailed solution until the situation was known; it would be futile to waste time debating minor points,
such as whether women should enter the combat zone, until it was known what the combat zone of the next war might include. Before the time arrived to make these specific decisions, the women who were to help make them must be trained not merely in drill but in an understanding of Army thinking, a process that could not be achieved overnight. And the men who were to make the decisions must also be trained in understanding the problems of militarization of women. If the women who were to lead the new corps were ignorant, said Hughes. "this ignorance, coupled with man's intolerance, may be, fatal." 40
The Hughes plan contemplated that only women overseas or in danger zones would be militarized. The only advantage to the Army in militarizing other women would be that of being able to order them to perform certain unpopular duties such as laundry work, and the plan noted the fallacy of supposing that women of a higher type would enlist after they knew that only menial work was in store for them.
The need for military status in danger zones was strongly indicated by current arguments then before Congress concerning women who had worked in France and who were seeking compensation for the loss of their health. The War Department had already decided that such women were not entitled to veterans' gratuities, ruling in one case:
Female telephone operators have no military status whatever . . . those serving with the American Expeditionary Forces [were] not even under civil service regulations . . . . It is not believed that Congress intended that a gratuity should be paid to any person not actually a member of the military establishment. 41
Nevertheless, the sentiment in Congress favored those women whose disabilities were directly due to war service, and financial relief to prevent their destitution was voted in certain cases. At this time Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts developed an interest in the problem which was to lead ultimately to her sponsorship, fifteen years later, of the WAAC bill. 42
Major Hughes also stated that it was uneconomical and confusing to have separate organizations of men and women, and that qualified women could be integrated into the men's army, with a similar uniform and privileges. He argued against camouflaging rank by odd titles such as Deputy Controller, which spared the male ego but confused the employing agencies. "Why not take the whole step and do the thing right?" he wrote.
Major Hughes' prophetic efforts were embalmed with indorsement, laid out for observation for a period, and then buried so deep in the files that they were recovered only after the WAAC was six months old and War Department planners had already made most of the mistakes he predicted.43 His study was sent to the Chief of
Staff in 1928 and again, refurbished, in 1930. 44 At this time the new G-1, Brig. Gen. Albert J. Bowley, also distinguished himself in the field of prophecy by proposing an immediate campaign of education for Regular Army officers, since
Successful co-operation between men and women during the next war will depend to a great extent on the attitude of the officers of the Regular Army toward the women of the country. To influence this attitude will require much time and discussion.45
A dejected-looking sheaf of handwritten scraps of paper indicated that the studies were carried back and forth from G-1 to the Chief of Staff to the Secretary of Near to G-1, bearing notations of diminishing intensity, such as "Hold until Secretary of War decides "; "Hold until fall when women return to their homes after summer activities"; and, finally, merely "Hold." The last one in the series, dated 5 January 1931, stated: "General B. says may as well suspend; no one seems willing to do anything about it."
So ended the peacetime planning for a women's corps.
The Approach of World War II
On 1 September 1939, under the shadow of imminent hostilities, Gen. George C. Marshall was appointed Chief of Staff, and a month later planning for a women's corps was resumed. A staff study of the problem was shortly prepared by G-1 Division. The study did not reflect its predecessors in any way; planners were evidently not aware of the Phipps and Hughes studies. 46
The most important idea in the new plan was that women must under no circumstances be given full military status. The Civilian Conservation Corps was hit upon as the model. The plan stated:
The CCC has shown how persons may be grouped in units with a military form of organization, uniformed, given grades of rank, paid and cared for, employed under orders of Army Officers, administered by the Army's chain of command, and governed by War Department Regulations, without being members of the Army.
WAAC leaders were later to consider this analogy extremely unfortunate, since the CCC had been a peacetime organization employed in separate camps, whereas the WAAC was to be used in Army camps and overseas where a legal distinction in status would be far more difficult. The plan likewise proposed that some women would be set up in "quasi-military female organizations" similar to companies, while others would move about individually or in small groups. It was stated that women's probable jobs would include those of "hostesses, librarians, canteen clerks, cooks and waitresses, chauffeurs, messengers, and strolling minstrels." The plan was held in abeyance, and for another eighteen months the War Department did not commit itself. 47
Meanwhile, numerous letters and telegrams began to be received from women's organizations and from individuals offering their services. G-1 Division now expressed mild anxiety lest any of these women arrive in a theater of operations before they could be organized in some civilian corps under military control. With the collapse of France in May and June of 1940 and the subsequent Battle of Britain, the offers of help redoubled. When in September of 1940 the first peacetime Selective Service Act became law, women's groups increased their demands that they be allowed to contribute to the nation's defense. By March of 1941 a change in tone could be noted in official statements. In a letter to an inquirer General Marshall stated:
While the United States is not faced with an acute shortage of manpower such as has forced England to make such an extensive use of its women, it is realized that we must plan for every possible contingency, and certainly must provide some outlet for the patriotic desires of our women.48
The pressure of these patriotic desires was soon considerable. In Chicago, the Women's League of Defense, 17,000 strong, set itself up as an agency for the enrollment and classification of "women who can do anything helpful to replace a man in the event of war." In Los Angeles, the Women's Ambulance and Defense Corps trained women in military skills and persistently sought recognition as an Army sponsored agency for training women officers. In Pittsburgh, the Memorial Gold Cross First Aid and Ambulance Corps enrolled 2,000 members. In Washington, D. C., the Green Guards stated that they had "contended, urged, and pleaded with the powers that be to include women in the national defense plan in some capacity." In Ohio, the Toledo Unit of the Willys-Overland Women's Motor Defense Corps proposed to train women for duties with the Army.
Many other such private organizations arose, most of them genuine, but a few spurious. G-2 Division was obliged to discontinue replies from the Chief of Staff to organizations that had previously tried to convince the public that they had Army sponsorship. During these months, private citizens without number also wrote to the Army and to Congress offering their services.49
More significant than this sporadic activity was evidence that Congress or national groups might act to set up women's units outside Army control, or with full military status. Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers reported herself ready to introduce a bill for full military status. The Air Corps requested a woman's volunteer defense corps for duty with its Aircraft Warning Service; as the War Department delayed, the Air Corps decided that a separate women's corps under its own control might be preferable. U.S. Army representatives in England also advised that a women's auxiliary would be necessary in the event that larger forces were sent overseas, since members of the British Women's Auxiliary Air Force and Auxiliary Territorial Services could not be borrowed by the U.S. forces in sufficient numbers because of the British manpower shortage.
From the White House came two infor-
mal proposals. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt suggested that American women, like the British, be used in antiaircraft barrage work, a duty that was considered by some military planners as dangerously close to combat work. In a separate proposal she suggested a pool of women for service with the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as needed, but under the command of none of them; instead, it would possibly be under the Office of Civilian Defense, although members of Congress protested such action from the House floor because of the "miserable record of mismanagement" of that organization. 50
Immediate impetus was supplied by Congresswoman Rogers, for many years an authority on legislation concerning women. Mrs. Rogers stated later, when asked her motives:
My motives? In the first World 'War, I was there and saw. I saw the women in France, and how they had no suitable quarters and no Army discipline. Many dietitians and physiotherapists who served then are still sick in the hospital, and I was never able to get any veterans' compensation for them, although I secured passage of one bill aiding telephone operators. I was resolved that our women would not again serve with the Army without the protection men got. 51
Mrs. Rogers later informed the House: "I have been nursing this measure along through the years." 52
In the spring of 1941 Mrs. Rogers called upon the Chief of Staff and informed him that she intended to introduce a bill to establish a women's corps. General Marshall replied. "Give me a week to consider it," and afterwards asked that the week be extended to a month.53
During this month the War Department plunged into furious planning for a bill that the Army could safely sponsor.
The planners' motives were made clear in a staff memorandum from the Assistant Chief of Staff, G-1, who wrote:
Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers has been determined for some time to introduce a bill to provide a women's organization in the Army. We have succeeded in stopping her on the promise that we are studying the same thing, and will permit her to introduce a bill which will meet with War Department approval.
Mrs. Roosevelt also seems to have a plan.
The sole purpose of this study is to permit the organization of a women's force along lines which meet with War Department approval, so that when it is forced upon us, as it undoubtedly will be, we shall be able to run it our way. 54
The resulting plan was the work of Col. James Taylor of G-1 Division and, later, of Maj. Robert W. Berry. It provided for a Women's Army Auxiliary Force (WAAF), definitely a civilian auxiliary and not part of the Army. The plan's authors believed that it would avoid the errors made during World War I. They stated:
The War Department initially made no provision for the use of women in the last war with the exception of the Army Nurse Corps.
. . . However, the services of women were found to be so necessary overseas and in posts, camps, and bureaus in the United States that before the World War was over, a large group of women were serving with the Army in unorganized and uncoordinated groups, hastily and inefficiently recruited, under little if any discipline, and with no military status or recognition.55
Cited advantages of the plan included not only its greater controls but the fact that "it will tend to avert the pressure to admit women to actual membership in the Army." Cited disadvantages included not only the many special arrangements necessary for women's care but the fact that the corps would "inject many other unpredictable problems into military administration."
Most of the General and Special Staff Divisions, when the plan was submitted to them for comment, agreed with G-1's reasoning. The name was changed from WAAF to WAAC, at the suggestion of The Adjutant General, because a parallel with the earlier British name was believed desirable, although Mrs. Rogers and other women advisers objected because of the sound and the similarity to the word wacky. G-4 Division concurred "in time of war only." 56
Although The Surgeon General concurred, the Director of the Army Nurse Corps. Maj. Julia Flikke, did not favor the bill, saying, "It is my opinion that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages . . . complications would arise between that organization and other existing organizations." She feared that it would inconvenience citizens by causing "a dearth of domestic help" during the war and that "this organization necessarily would be composed largely of married women who would find it difficult to comply with regulations because of home ties, and would always need special consideration and no doubt there would be many who would object to regimentation." 57 Only the Judge Advocate General proposed full military status, fearing-all too accurately, as it later proved-legal complications in an auxiliary.58
The Secretary of War rejected the plan at first sight, declaring it "premature," but upon learning the alternatives he acceded, being reassured by G-1 Division that "if the organization of this force is authorized by law, it is the intention of the War Department to develop it slowly and by trial and error. It is not the purpose of the War Department to rush into this matter on a large scale." 59
H. R. 4906
On 28 May 1941 Mrs. Rogers introduced in the House of
Representatives "A Bill to establish a Women's Army Auxiliary
Corps for Service with the Army of the United States."
accepted auxiliary status for the corps, saying:
In the beginning, I wanted very much to have these women taken in as a part of the Army . . . . I wanted them to have the same rate of pension and disability allowance. I . . . realized that I could not secure that. The War Department was very unwilling to have these women as a part of the Army. 61
She also correctly estimated Congressional temper as being at this time much opposed to any idea of full military status for women.
H.R. 4906, as prepared by Major Berry and other officers of G-1 Division, took fourteen printed pages to outline the ways in which the Corps did and did not differ from the Army. The WAAC was to be a corps of 25,000 women for noncombatant service; it was "not 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." There followed a statement of its mission that was extremely significant, for it indicated a decision which was perhaps the most basic and vital of the Corps' history: the WAAC was established "for the purpose of making available to the national defense the knowledge, skill, and special training of the women of the nation." Deliberate emphasis was placed on the utilization of a small number of skilled high-grade workers, instead of large numbers of unskilled low-grade personnel, as contemplated in earlier plans. Planners noted:
The problem in the United States is not primarily one of
utilizing women in the military service for the purpose of
releasing manpower, but is one of utilizing women to increase the
efficiency of the Army.
Both educational and technical qualifications should be set exceptionally high to make of the projected organization an elite corps; in order that it may quickly attain the highest reputation for both character and professional excellence.63
Later developments were to make it appear that no one yet fully understood the tremendous implications which this decision would have in necessitating procedures different from those for men, who were of course enlisted without any such selectivity as to skills and character. In fact, the same planners in a list of possible duties included jobs manifestly unfit for recruits of skill and education, such as charwoman and laundry worker.
The bill neglected to spell out a point that had been clearly stated in earlier plans: the WAAC was to operate under Army command channels above the company level. Instead, command responsibility was publicly placed on a woman entitled Director, who was to "operate and administer the Corps in accordance with the normal military procedure of command." The Director was also to "advise the War Department" and "make recommendations as to plans and policies."
Endless legal distinctions were also attempted. Waacs were to receive medical service from the Army, but no medical or other benefits after discharge except those provided by the Employees Compensation Commission. They were considered military personnel for benefits of the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act but not for benefits of the act granting re-employment rights, except for those who left Civil Service jobs. Most important, the extent to which Waacs could be disciplined was not clear. It was stated that Waacs were to be subject to the Articles of War "when applicable," but it was to develop that no one then or later ever knew when they were applicable except in overseas areas.
The bill was obliged to be specific on matters such as pay, allowances, grades and the numbers in each grade, travel pay, leave, and other points that were to be quickly outmoded by subsequent Army
legislation, thereupon requiring additional WAAC legislation.
Still worse, the camouflaged grades were not strictly comparable to Army grades in either rank or pay and were to cause great confusion in finance and personnel offices when the attempt was made to replace men on Army Tables of Organization. Instead of lieutenants and captains, the WAAC had third, second, and first officers. A first officer was comparable to a captain in duties and insignia but drew the pay of a first lieutenant; a second officer drew pay somewhere between a first and second lieutenant's; and a third officer was comparable to a second lieutenant, with pay of $1,500.
Enlisted grades were still more confusing, with three grades of auxiliaries comparable to the Army's two grades of privates and three grades of leaders in place of the Army's five grades of noncommissioned officers. In addition there was to be a director, who was authorized the salary of $3,000, comparable to a major's, and a few assistant directors, who were to receive a captain's pay of $2,400.
This bill after its introduction immediately sank from sight; it was not to become law for a full year. It was referred routinely to the Bureau of the Budget, which did not reply for four months. Meanwhile, G-1 Division had reversed its previous stand and ventured the hope that the Chief of Staff would withdraw his support or at least not commit himself until the Bureau of the Budget was heard from.64
Nevertheless, the Chief of Staff, almost alone in the War Department, made it clear in the fall of 1941 that he had come to look on the bill with more than official approval. Mrs. Rogers noted that "General Marshall now became very enthusiastic about the bill." 65 Col. John H. Hilldring, soon to assume office as G-1, stated later:
By the summer of 1941, General Marshall was intensely interested in the WAAC business. He foresaw a cycle of shortages; that of the moment was the supply shortage, in which the scarcity of supplies hindered mobilization, but he now became convinced that the bottleneck of the future would be that of manpower. He also considered the fact that war had become a complicated business which needed many civilian techniques, and that many of these were almost completely in the control of women. General Marshall asked me why we should try to train men in a specialty such as typing or telephone work which in civilian life has been taken over completely by women; this, he felt, was uneconomical and a waste of time which we didn't have. For example, the Army's telephone service had always had a reputation for being bad in spite of our superior equipment, and women operators could and did end all that.
The Chief of Staff was also influenced by the fact that the ladies wanted in; he literally has a passionate regard for democratic ideals.66
General Marshall at this time told several of his staff members that, while he did not see any immediate need for large numbers of women in the Army, he would like to have authorization for a women's corps on his books so that, if the need for quick action should arise, the point of debate would be past.67 This agreed with what he later wrote to Congress:
I regard the passage of this bill at an early date as of considerable importance. In general, we have secured most of the legislation required for the complete mobilization of the Army so that we can go ahead with its development and definitely plan for the future. However, we lack Congressional authority for the establishment of a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, and as a result can make no definite plans. Also, I am under continued pressure from many directions regarding this phase of our preparations.
It is important that as quickly as possible we have a declared national policy in this matter. Women certainly must be employed in the overall effort of this nation . . . . We consider it essential that their status, their relationship to the military authority, should be clearly established.68
The Chief of Staff therefore took personal action to needle the agencies still brooding on the WAAC bill. Although the U.S. Civil Service Commission and the Employees Compensation Commission both had been persuaded by Mrs. Rogers to render favorable reports, the Bureau of the-Budget informed the War Department on 7 October: "It is not believed that the enactment of the proposed legislation, at least at the present time, should be considered as being in accord with the program of the President." 69 The Bureau of the Budget stated, "There appears to be no need for a WAAC inasmuch as there will never be a shortage of manpower in the limited service field." 70
In his attempts to get the measure past the Bureau of the Budget, the Chief of Staff employed a newcomer to the War Department, one of its civilian consultants, Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby. Mrs. Hobby had, in the summer of 1941, been "virtually drafted" to come to Washington to set up the new Women's Interests Section of the War Department Bureau of Public Relations, a section designed to furnish soldiers' wives and mothers with information that would reassure them about the living conditions of their drafted relatives. She had agreed to stay for not more than four months, or until the agency was functioning properly; any longer absence from home she considered undesirable in view of the fact that she had a husband and two children and was coeditor and publisher of a newspaper.71
General Marshall reported himself impressed with Mrs. Hobby's work in organizing a meeting, at which he spoke, of the national presidents of the twenty-one largest women's organizations, designed to secure their good will and assistance to the Army. 72 He therefore asked her to give the G-1 planners any assistance on the public relations aspect of the WAAC bill that they might need. At the time of certain discussions with the President's wife, General Marshall himself sent a handwritten note to G-1: "Please utilize Mrs. Hobby as your agent to smooth the way in this matter through Mrs. Roosevelt.'' 73 As a result, Mrs. Hobby was thoroughly familiar with the legislation and was appointed
GEN. GEORGE C. MARSHALL speaking to a meeting of the national presidents of the twenty-one largest women's organizations, 13 October 1941.
the only female representative of the War Department in negotiations with the Bureau of the Budget and in later Congressional hearings.
In further efforts to get the WAAC bill past the Bureau of the Budget, General Marshall made a personal call and sent a highly favorable written report to the effect that "this legislation has great merit." Already overshadowed by the coming events at Pearl Harbor, the report on 25 November 1941 spoke of gaining "valuable time while time is available" in order to develop a small corps in an orderly and efficient fashion.74
On Thanksgiving eve General Marshall checked over with Colonel Hilldring the measures now completed to make the War Department ready for the gathering storm and, noting that WAAC legislation was still among the missing, directed him to omit no step to ensure its immediate passage. Colonel Hilldring recounted later: "General Marshall shook his finger at me and said, 'I want a women's corps right away and I don't want any excuses!' At that, I displayed considerable energy." 75
Colonel Hilldring's energy was shortly reinforced by that of the Japanese at Pearl Harbor. On 11 December, four days after Pearl Harbor, the Bureau of the Budget withdrew its objections.76 The way was now clear to ask Congress for the orderly
and efficient development of a small women's corps capable of expansion in wartime.
When later criticism came to be leveled against the agencies and individuals who failed, in the five months now left before the passage of the bill, to anticipate and prevent every problem of the new organization's development, they were able to note in reply that they were attempting in one hundred and fifty days, and in the midst of events that dwarfed the WAAC in importance, to settle problems which twenty-three years of leisurely planning had not succeeded in solving. "Woman's ignorance" and "man's intolerance" had now come together in the fatal combination of Major Hughes' prophecy.
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