Stresses of Rapid Build-up: Supply and the WAAC Uniform

As was to be expected from past Army experiences, the difficulties of expansion were also felt immediately in the matter of supply. For the WAAC, supply problems had been more or less chronic since the Corps' establishment, with crises following each new expansion plan; none more than temporarily remedied.

Shortages of Clothing

Of these supply problems, the one most apparent to the public was the Corps' inability to issue even one set of military outer garments to recruits-a situation that rarely pertained to male draftees. As the Corps neared the end of its first winter, fully half of the women in some training centers still went through their entire training without uniforms, while at others only summer clothing was available. Fort Dix, New Jersey, for example, was surprised to see descending from a train-in the midst of a March snowstorm-the entire 42d WAAC Post Headquarters Company from Daytona Beach, dressed in summer cottons. The women were promptly restricted to barracks and put to bed to keep warm, while Fort Dix for-

warded comments derogatory to the intelligence of WAAC authorities in training centers.1  One west coast airfield, expecting a company, received a single untidy-looking Waac whose only clothing was the begrimed civilian outfit she had worn from her home to the training center and throughout basic training. After acid comment by telephone to Washington, one uniform was obtained. Other Waacs arrived with one or two shirts at desert airfields where the daily temperature averaged 110 degrees. At other times stations complained that women had been given their complete clothing issue by a process of issuing them grotesquely ill-fitting garments and, still worse, wrong-sized shoes, with the assurance that "you can change them when you get to your permanent station," even though the stations obviously had as yet no maintenance supplies of WAAC clothing.2


Such failures were generally attributed by the public, and by WAAC trainees, to the numbers involved in the expansion program, or to the difficulty of procuring women's garments in an organization accustomed to dealing only with men's. The latter view was at times held by WAAC Headquarters itself; which noted in one criticism of The Quartermaster General's action: "Two manufacturers of women's wear said . . . any one of fifty stores in the country supplied many more women with many more items." 3  However, upon later analysis, shortages-as distinguished from defects in style-were seldom found to be due to Quartermaster inexperience or inability to let contracts for the relatively small numbers of women in the Army, but rather to simple failure to let WAAC contracts to manufacturers in time. This in turn was caused by the repeated refusal of Requirements Division. Services of Supply, to approve The Quartermaster General's proposals without lengthy delay and debate over possible discrimination in favor of women. At other times failures resulted, in The Quartermaster General's opinion, from the Services of Supply's action in approving G-3's expansion plans without the concurrence of supply agencies.

Difficulties in this respect could be traced back to the moment, a few days after the passage of WAAC legislation, when WAAC Headquarters and The Quartermaster General completed and sent to Requirements Division for approval the Table of Basic Allowances for winter clothing. Its approval was believed routine, since General Marshall had personally viewed and approved every listed item at the time of the WAAC's establishment. Nevertheless, approval was not forthcoming, and upon inquiry it was found that Requirements Division took issue with the fact that women's military clothing, like their civilian clothing, was scheduled to cost more than men's. A Waac's outfit would cost $177.45 as against $102.33 for a man's. In its efforts to equalize the total costs, Requirements Division noted that, whereas men received only one overcoat, women were scheduled to get two-the heavy winter coat like the men's and the light waterproof utility coat instead of the men's field jacket. Requirements Division at once determined to save $15.00 per woman by deleting the utility coat.

Director Hobby, when informed, pointed out that Requirements Division's action had been taken in ignorance of the previous months of planning on the WAAC uniform, in which the whole outfit had been keyed to the two coats. Thus, women's winter uniforms and underwear were of a lighter weight than men's, and women were not given either wool shirts or field jackets. The heavy overcoat was too warm for wear in spring and fall, and she felt that sickness would result if women faced those seasons with only cotton shirts and light covert cloth uniforms. The Quartermaster General sided with the Director, pointing out that no saving would result from the deletion, since one utility coat and one overcoat would wear as long as two of the more expensive overcoats, while a utility coat would protect the overcoat from rough wear in rain, mud, and motor convoys. The Chief of Administrative Services, General Grunert, likewise backed the Director in her arguments.4  Requirements Division nevertheless re-


fused to restore the item: "Statement as to possible increase in sickness may be questioned. On a cold winter day, it is a common sight to see women dressed in light weight clothing, including silk stockings and light shoes, while men are clothed in heavy wool garments." 5

For five weeks the matter remained deadlocked. The Philadelphia Depot telephoned to state, "The girls will freeze this winter," 6  and wrote, "The time has passed when they may elect the fabric they desire and must take that which is available." 7  Director Hobby twice more protested the refusal to approve her requests.

At the end of July, with Waacs already at Des Moines; The Quartermaster General's Office (OQMG) had still received no procurement authority for either coat, and in desperation telephoned Director Hobby to ask that she put "a lot of pressure" on Requirements Division. This feat she believed to be militarily impossible since Requirements Division was on a higher SOS echelon than her office and was headed by a major general. The Director stated, "It's going to be a tragedy," to which the OQMG representative added: "And we don't want to be responsible for it. I know damn well that we will be blamed for it if the things aren't available. And these people that sit up there and can't make up their minds are going to crucify us, and I don't like it . . . . God Almighty, they are grown people!" 8

What happened next was not recorded, but two days later Requirements Division, SOS, agreed to permit the procurement of both coats. There was some indication that the matter had not previously reached a high echelon in the Requirements Division.9  At all events, it was admitted that the delay in letting contracts was already irreparable;10  there shortly ensued the September and October supply debacle at Des Moines, with its accompanying high sick rates and adverse publicity.

Nevertheless, when increased expansion plans were adopted in September of 1942, the same situation arose again. In explaining his inability to supply uniforms to either Des Moines or Daytona Beach in November and December, as promised, The Quartermaster General stated that Requirements Division had again delayed letting of uniform contracts for six weeks, for unexplained reasons. In addition, it proved impossible for The Quartermaster General to get from the Services of Supply authority to procure emergency cold weather items to make up the deficit. The climate at Des Moines by this time had proved such that, even had full winter uniforms been available, additional arctic type clothing would have been needed for outdoor workers and for all who had to march or walk across the extensive post. Temperatures of from zero to 20 degrees below were not uncommon, and a foot or more of snow often covered the parade ground.

On 3 November 1942, the newly appointed commandant, Colonel Hoag, wired: DUE TO SEVERE CLIMATIC CONDI-


TIONS, FOLLOWING ITEMS WAAC CLOTHING URGENTLY NEEDED TO PROPERLY PROTECT AND SAFEGUARD HEALTH OF THIS COMMAND. He asked for over 15,000 each of four-buckle arctic overshoes, nurses' lambskin lined mittens, and wool-lined trousers, and concluded: IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT THE SUPPLY OF THESE BY EXPEDITED.11  A few days later Colonel Hoag appealed again by letter, asking for wool socks, caps, shirts, and trousers, also mittens, wool underwear, and overshoes; for drivers, he asked for flannel-lined coveralls to replace the cotton ones.12

In Director Hobby's absence in England during this month, Colonel Catron immediately appealed to Distribution Division, Services of Supply, for orders to ship emergency cold-weather items. Some debate then took place between Distribution Division and Requirements Division. Distribution Division felt that action on the radio request should not be delayed but that the whole problem must be approached more deliberately:

With reference to the broad problem posed by basic radio, this division has noted numerous requests initiated, piecemeal, by the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps for the adoption of additional items of clothing .... It is recommended that caution be observed in authorizing any special procurement to assure the adequacy of items hurriedly requested to fill the requirement for which intended. This division has no information as to the adequacy of the trousers desired, nor as to the suitability of the Arctic overshoes requested for wear with shoes issued to the WAAC.13

As a result, no decisive action was taken except to schedule a conference for 25 November, some two weeks away.

The Quartermaster General also was unable to take action, and in fact was in a state of rebellion against the repeated expansion directives his office had been receiving. It was his opinion that the War Department supply agencies that agreed to G-3's expansion program-particularly Requirements Division-had not co-ordinated the matter fully enough with their operating agencies.

OQMG, which had requested twelve months' notice of expansion plans, now was lucky to get twelve minutes, so rapidly did the WAAC estimates go up. The Quartermaster history of women's clothing stated: "Army Service Forces did its planning at much too short range, without admitting the necessity for stock-piling cloth . . . ." Admittedly OQMG was kept fully informed, often by telephone, of the latest developments, but no sooner did it complete plans and let contracts than the figures were again raised. The figures furnished The Quartermaster General had increased within a few months from a March 1942 estimate of 12,000 in a year to later estimates of 53,000 for 1943; then 113,000; then 150,000; then half a million, although the last figure was not used for procurement purposes. As a Quartermaster historian later remarked, "The consternation this created can be imagined." 14

Accordingly, an OQMG council was held in November of 1942, at which it was stated that no increased supply of winter uniforms could be procured and no cold-weather or arctic equipment, unless the office was given twelve months from date of notice if cloth must be bought, or six months if the items could be procured ready-made. This was the time customarily allowed for the procurement of men's


clothing and equipment. This recommendation was approved by the Services of Supply's Chief of Staff, General Styer, in ignorance of the fact that the women were already at Des Moines.15

Upon Director Hobby's return from England in mid-November and her threatened resignation, General Styer shortly reversed this policy and directed The Quartermaster General to get 2,000 winter uniforms to Des Moines at once and 1,000 a week thereafter, regardless of his twelve months' notice. General Styer's immediate subordinate, the assistant chief of staff for operations-Maj. Gen. LeRoy Lutes-then directed The Quartermaster General to procure at once 2,500 wool lined trousers, 2,500 wool shirts, and 2,000 pairs of gloves for WAAC motor transport personnel. General Lutes' immediate subordinate, the director of Requirements Division-Brig. Gen. Walter A. Wood, Jr. also directed the Quartermaster Corps to procure 17,700 wool caps and wool gloves and 2,574 more overshoes, and to take action to standardize necessary articles for winter wear.16

To achieve this increase without diverting standard material from men's uniforms, the Philadelphia Depot was obliged to gather up various odd lots of different colored woolen materials which were then in the depot, and to have them re-dyed to the enlisted shade. These inevitably came out in a wide range of nonstandard colors. One branch of OQMG directed that some skirts, some jackets, and some caps be made in each shade, so that a woman might receive a complete matching outfit even if she did not match her neighbors. Since this would have caused administrative difficulty for the depot, another branch of OQMG canceled this order without the knowledge of the branch that had issued it. As a result, skirts and jackets were of different shades and it was impossible to match them. Observed a Quartermaster historian: "The most grotesque combination was that of the chocolate-brown barathea and the mustard shade olive-drab." 17  From the viewpoint of the Recruiting Service, these uniforms were horse than the shortages, but they were at least warm.

To avoid such hasty procurement in the future, The Quartermaster General again recommended that his office be given twelve months' notice on any further increases, saying:
Experience indicates that it has required approximately twelve months from the initiation of procurement of cloth required for WAAC uniforms until the finished article is ready for issue.

WAAC Headquarters again professed its helplessness to give such notice:
Since the passage of the bill creating the WAAC, four (4) distinct expansion plans have been ordered by higher authority. In each instance the plan was ordered into operation immediately, and The Quartermaster General was given the proposed figures without delay.

Accordingly; the Services of Supply was forced in December of 1942 to give The Quartermaster General procurement authorization in advance of the General Staff decision on the Corps' future size, stating that the clothing could be used for main-


tenance stocks if the expected draft of women did not occur. The enormous amounts of 400,000 by the end of 1943 and 750,000 by June of 1944 were authorized, in the expectation that the plan for a draft law to obtain those numbers would be approved. In the light of future events, it was perhaps fortunate that the paper was recalled, and that it was decided to await the General Staff decision on draft plans.18

In spite of General Styer's intervention in November, there could be no immediate improvement in the supply of uniforms since the procurement process had been long delayed. On Christmas Eve Colonel Hoag again telegraphed from Des Moines, reporting many items exhausted, all stocks low. At Daytona Beach, which opened in December, only summer uniforms were available for most of the winter. Trainees were necessarily shipped out in summer khaki, regardless of destination. The Third WAAC Training Center, at Fort Oglethorpe, opening in January, reported that many women went through their entire training without uniforms; at the same time, the rate of respiratory disorders soared to twice that of men in the area. Graduates were at first held idle in staging areas. The previous shipment of women in civilian clothes to the Aircraft Warning Service had had such an adverse effect upon recruiting that Director Hobby had issued a ban on further shipments not properly uniformed. Overcrowded conditions in the staging companies soon forced repeal of this order, and a report from Fort Oglethorpe noted that "Fifty percent of personnel departing this station during the week of March 21-28 will not be uniformed.19

In early March WAAC Headquarters was informed that it was impossible for The Quartermaster General to meet the supply schedule furnished by Requirements Division at the time of G-3's February decisions on Corps' size. As a result, the Fourth WAAC Training Center was scheduled to open in the still-wintry Massachusetts weather without any clothing supplies whatever.

At this, the Director sent her chief of operations, Colonel Clark, to the training centers to determine the actual situation. Upon his return Colonel Clark directed sharp criticism toward the Army Service Forces' supply agencies. There had been minor administrative faults at the training centers, Colonel Clark reported, such as occasional failure to establish close cooperation with depots or to utilize stock fully. Thus, the Atlanta Quartermaster Depot had shipped items to Daytona Beach that were needed at Fort Oglethorpe, and vice versa, and Quartermaster had refused to exchange them:

He objected strenuously on the grounds that such action would confuse his records. My reaction to that is that records can always be straightened out but a death from pneumonia due to improper clothing can hardly be laughed off.

In spite of such occasional administrative faults, Colonel Clark concluded emphatically that fully 80 percent of the difficulties could be traced to insufficiency of production rather than of administration. He recommended that proper authority assure that individual contractors were on time, that surplus men's material "known to be available in abundance" be used,


"that a determined inquiry be made at once to ascertain why certain articles are, and have been, habitually lacking over a period of months, and that steps be taken to remedy this deficiency." 20

In reply to Colonel Clark's report, The Quartermaster General stated that WAAC supply had been "expedited in every manner"; "contractors are well ahead"; "this office, in supervising and directing the procurement of WAAC clothing through the procuring depot, has taken every action possible to eliminate delinquencies on current contracts." 21  This view was supported by General Madison Pearson, Deputy Chief of Administrative Services, SOS, who wrote; "The report of action taken by The Quartermaster General indicates that everything possible is being done to expedite the manufacture and shipment of clothing." 22

Finally, representatives of WAAC Headquarters, in a meeting at OQMG, secured promise of makeshift action to supply the Fourth Training Center. A sufficient quantity of Civilian Conservation Corps spruce-green mackinaws were made available; trainees were issued Army officers' serge shirts in lieu of winter jackets; and 20,000 more off-shade skirts were procured, also shoes and raincoats. The Fifth Training Center, at Camps Ruston and Polk in Louisiana and Monticello in Arkansas, could fortunately get along with summer khaki. The Quartermaster General; said a WAAC representative, was "most sympathetic and cooperative."

The Quartermaster General now decided that the matter of supplying the WAAC warranted the full-time specialized attention of one officer, and a WAAC officer was assigned to his office to work on the problem. Such an assignment had not been possible previously because of General Somervell's order that no WAAC officers would be assigned to any office within his headquarters other than that of the Director WAAC.23

If the supply of uniforms to training centers was insufficient, that to field stations was virtually nonexistent. Army supply officers at these stations often were uncertain what the WAAC supply channel was or what depots stocked WAAC clothing, and they had no copies of the WAAC T/BA, T/E, and T/O, which were apparently not available at training centers or in the field. Even if requisitions were properly submitted, it took over a month to get them filled from the two depots-Kansas City and Atlanta-that stocked WAAC uniforms. Sometimes the requisitions were never filled, and the wait for shoes was often two or three months. As late as 15 March a service command which had administered WAAC units for seven months was told that there was still no schedule set up for maintenance allowances for Waacs at posts, camps, and stations, and that none could be set up until sufficient quantities of clothing were available for new recruits.24

Appearance of the Uniform

In addition to exaggerating shortages, the expansion program had permanently


affected the appearance of the WAAC uniform, by making correction of early mistakes impossible before mass production was required. For every amateur theorist who supposed that any other cause had damaged WAAC recruiting, there were ten who put the blame on the appearance of the uniform. Some nine out of ten of the unsolicited letters of advice received by the WAAC went so far as to place sole responsibility upon this one factor.

Actually, OQMG had been well aware from the moment uniforms were issued that many items of clothing needed modification, and plans for such modification were being made when the need for immediate mass production intervened. The Quartermaster General, soon after the opening of the First WAAC Training Center, sent to Des Moines an expert committee which included a representative of the Philadelphia Depot and a civilian consultant, Miss Dorothy Shaver, vice-president of Lord & Taylor. These catalogued various complaints, and Colonel Faith reported others. All garments were cut with wide collars and narrow hips, as for men; skirts, shirts, and jackets were for this reason generally ill fitting, uncomfortable, and unbecoming to the average woman. Hats were out of shape before they were issued; raincoats leaked at every seam in even a light shower; seams of hems were sewed down so that they could not be easily raised or lowered, and some garments had no hems at all. The suspenders on girdles were too short and pulled runs in stockings, as the War Production Board had allotted insufficient elastic.25

The attempt to discover the reason for the poor appearance of what had been a basically sound uniform design revealed that the Philadelphia Depot had never made a graded designers' model of the uniform, but had somehow got hold of a rough pattern cut by a manufacturer to estimate the cloth needed. This the depot had henceforth called "the master pattern," and from it each manufacturer had developed a set of sized patterns of his own. Those manufacturers who received contracts were all in the men's-wear industry, since, The Quartermaster General reported, "The manufacturers of women's clothing were not able to handle the production of WAAC uniforms at the prices which the Philadelphia Depot was willing to pay." Moreover, winter uniforms had already been made upon the defective patterns used for the summer ones.

For the poor results obtained, the Philadelphia Depot blamed The Quartermaster General for failing to consult it earlier, thus giving it insufficient time for development of patterns. Further developmental work was therefore relinquished to the depot so that it might not be hampered. A new jacket was developed, with a better-fitting collar. It had no belt, as the women had shown a tendency to pull the belt too tight. Unfortunately, the depot, in omitting the belt, respaced the jacket buttons so that the bottom one fell quite low; it was now impossible for a Waac to sit down without unbuttoning the lowest jacket button or suffering what Director Hobby described as an "unsightly gap." Since large quantities had been acquired, The Quartermaster General refused to correct the spacing. The new jacket, as turned out by the men's garment contractors, was also too flat across the bust and still too stiff and awkward.


WAAC BAND, Fort Des Moines.

WAAC BAND, Fort Des Moines.

The skirt pattern also was modified to round the hipline somewhat and to prevent wrinkling and rolling. The summer material was too stiff to permit insertion of a pleat, even if War Production Board rules would have allowed it. The 8.2 ounce cotton twill used in men's uniforms had admittedly proved totally unsatisfactory for women's; OQMG now tried to devise some other suitable summer material which would withstand laundering in Quartermaster laundries, but various cotton-rayon combinations all proved doubtful. Seersucker was dropped from consideration because it would have required a new uniform design and because of a shortage of production facilities, although the WAVES, SPARS, and women Marines all found an adequate supply for summer uniforms. Finally, it was decided that the khaki uniforms must be retained.

Until the spring of 1943, both the Director WAAC and The Quartermaster General found themselves in the position of helpless bystanders, able only to make suggestions, which were accepted by the Philadelphia Depot but never seemed to appear in the finished garments. In May, OQMG discovered the cause-the depot was frequently ignoring its recommendations, and for six months had not made all the requested corrections, nor had it ever placed the pattern in the hands of a good tailor of women's clothing, which it had been directed to do.

The Quartermaster General now took back some control over developmental work and, at the request of WAAC Headquarters, called in representatives of four leading clothing firms and expert designers of women's patterns.26  These immediately discarded the Army sizes, which had been set up in long, regular, and short, as


for men. Now at last patterns in the usual women's sizes were developed-half sizes, misses', women's, and long sizes. These proved better, but the Quartermaster's Storage and Distribution Division insisted that the old size designations and stock numbers be used on the new patterns, to avoid complicating its storage and issue system, which was geared to handle only short, regular, and long.

Even with improved patterns, the jackets still remained stiff and unbecoming, and it was not until some months later that OQMG detected the trouble: the Philadelphia Depot was still writing specifications, which manufacturers were required to follow, that called for the use of the same heavy construction with canvasses and interlinings of the weights used in men's uniforms.

In late 1943 and 1944 a satisfactory uniform pattern was to be gradually developed, but its production by this time was, as The Quartermaster General said, now merely a matter of academic interest, as large stocks of the earlier patterns had been ordered in an effort to meet the scheduled expansion program, and no new procurement could be authorized until these were worn out.

At first sight of the original ill-fitting uniforms, Director Hobby in July 1942 had recommended to Requirements Division, SOS, that Waacs going to the field or on leave be allowed to purchase individually tailored white dress uniforms, at their own expense, as were male Army officers, Army nurses, and, later, the Navy women's services. It was believed that such a measure would eliminate the worst of the general criticism encountered earlier, since the dress uniform could be worn for public ceremonies and appearances.

Requirements Division disapproved this request: "No useful purpose can be served in connection with efforts toward a successful prosecution of the war." 27  Three subsequent requests by the Director to General Marshall were stopped by the Services of Supply from reaching him, and the WAAC was not authorized a dress uniform until later entry into the Army automatically gave it to women officers.

The appearance of the WAAC cap was also much criticized. It was worked over by experts-the visor was made twice as thick and heavy, to prevent buckling; the side and top stiffening was increased; a new type of lining was devised. Still the cap remained almost impossible to clean and block. Director Hobby in January 1943 finally gave up the idea of a distinctive cap and requested a garrison (overseas) cap for all but dress wear. The Director pointed out that winter and summer garrison caps at a cost of 71 cents and 39 cents respectively would eliminate the need for issue of extra visored caps at $2.32 and $1.99 apiece. This request was refused by the Services of Supply on the grounds that it would increase the number of issued items. Although men got both dress and service caps, it was at the time believed that the War Department was shortly to cease issuing the garrison cap to men.28

The WAAC shirtwaist was also the subject of dispute, and more than one Army man reported, quite accurately, "I never yet saw a WAAC whose shirt collar fit her." Commercial producers of women's shirts had always sized them by bust sizes rather than by collar size, since civilian


women's blouses seldom had a standing collar and tie and therefore did not require exact collar measurements. Men's shirts, on the other hand, were sized by neck and sleeve measurements.

The Quartermaster General now perceived that women's military shirts should have been sized like men's, but the shirt contracts had been let to manufacturers of women's garments, who were unable to produce men's-type shirts with a standing collar-band and graded neck and sleeves. To cancel their contracts and let new ones would have caused a serious delay; it was therefore decided to retain the convertible collar and the original sizing system. Several sleeve lengths for each size were recommended, but the Quartermaster Storage and Distribution Division would not concur, because of the "extra work this would entail" in storing and shipping several types of shirts.

One difficulty was solved, however: The Quartermaster General discovered that the Philadelphia Depot had again been guilty of furnishing manufacturers a basic pattern cut by makers of men's shirts. A new pattern was devised with a collar that was smaller than the previous one and a bust that was larger, and this proved fairly satisfactory. Again, large purchases of the defective pattern had been made and had to be issued throughout 1943 and 1944, and complaints about the shirt never ceased to come in.

The problem of providing satisfactory government-issue shoes for women had from the beginning been difficult to solve so as to please everyone. The Director's Office made surveys of the women's opinions as to various types of shoes and found that there was a dissatisfied minority for any type. Medical opinion also was divided. One school of thought recommended a flat-heeled shoe like the men's for all purposes. pointing out that most orthopedic patients in WAAC training center hospitals suffered from sprains and fractures caused by marching or doing heavy work in the medium-heeled oxfords. Other experts said that, on the contrary, a sudden change to flat heels for constant wear would cause even greater foot trouble and fallen arches for the majority of American women. The dispute was resolved by the adoption of the nurses' high-laced flat-heeled field boot for outdoor work and marching and the service oxford for office and dress. Even for this limited use, the field boot had to be broken in by an elaborate routine involving heavy wool anklets and ten-minute daily wearings. The Director therefore recommended that the women get one pair of these field shoes in addition to the two pairs of ordinary shoes.

This request was refused by the Army Service Forces: men got only two pairs, both of course flat-heeled, so women could have only two-one of oxfords and one of field shoes. The Director appealed again, pointing out that in such case a woman could not let her service oxfords be sent away for repair, since repair of women's shoes proved to be always slower than that of men's and ordinarily took from two weeks to a month, a prohibitive length of time to be without shoes for office wear. Finally, after the Director wrote a memorandum on the subject to General Somervell, the ASF agreed to issue Waacs three pairs of shoes-two of oxfords and one of field shoes for office workers, one of oxfords and two of field shoes for outdoor workers.29


" You'll just have to get used to LOW-HEELED shoes! "


The WAAC utility bag had likewise proved unsatisfactory. The cheap imitation leather adopted by the economy minded Quartermaster General almost at once cracked and peeled. The Director then presented him with a leather bag designed by Richard Koret, and requested its adoption. Mourned a Quartermaster historian: "It was apparently immaterial that the bag was expensive and that it used calfskin leather, a critical material." 30  This sample was delivered to the Philadelphia Depot, which immediately let the contract to such low-priced manufacturers that the resulting bag was unrecognizable and quickly wore out. Finally, OQMG announced with pleasure that it had located a quantity of seal leather, tanned goatskin, and genuine water buffalo. These were durable and noncritical materials, and an excellent utility bag resulted.

The Navy avoided most clothing difficulties by giving its Waves a clothing allowance with which to purchase uniforms. Various commercial firms produced the uniforms, apparently without any of the Philadelphia Depot's misfortunes, and sold them through department stores which gave expert fitting. Shoes and other personal items could thus be chosen from standard models whose fit suited the individual. The Army was unable to adopt this system, since to provide a money allowance in lieu of clothing would have required Congressional action to amend existing Army legislation. Army women eventually benefited in that they received maintenance of the uniform by free replacement of worn-out items, whereas the Waves' monetary maintenance allowance of $12.50 every three months was reputedly scarcely enough to keep them in stockings, much less in new uniforms, shoes, and underwear.31

The Need for New Types of Work Clothing

As Waacs began, under the expansion program, to do various kinds of Army jobs which had not been anticipated by tire WAAC Pre-Planners, a need arose for new types of work clothing. Of the four types of jobs which had been originally authorized-clerks, drivers, cooks, and telephone operators-the first and last could be performed in the A uniform. Accordingly, the only work uniforms authorized for Waacs were white dresses for cooks and coveralls for drivers to put on over their uniforms while making motor repairs. These work uniforms were issued only to the few specialists concerned. The majority of Waacs when shipped to the field had only the A uniform plus two of the seersucker exercise dresses, which were worn to protect the service uniform during physical training, kitchen police, and barracks fatigue duties.

With the expansion of the Corps, Waacs soon were working in hospital wards and laboratories, driving light trucks as well as staff cars, and being assigned as full-time mechanics, welders, pier checkers, messengers, and gas pump attendants. In the Air Forces many worked "on the line" in aircraft maintenance and in other jobs that required them to climb in and out of aircraft and up and down control towers. Neither the A uniform nor the fatigue


dress was appropriate. The A uniform was easily ruined by grease or medicines, and its tight skirt made tower-climbing either impossible or immodest; the exercise dress was even skimpier, being well above the knee and unsuitable for appearance outside the WAAC area.

One of the most important reported work needs was for some form of trousers or culottes, requests for which poured in from the field. The Military District of Washington, after a study of the needs of Waacs in its motor pool, requested a culotte skirt for drivers. The regular skirt had proven slightly embarrassing at times to the wearer, particularly in climbing over tail-gates into trucks, or standing on a rack about 3 feet high and leaning over washing the tops of passenger cars . . . . The coverall currently, provided has been found unsuitable and unsightly for wear when driving staff cars and the regulation skirt too short and tight.

WAAC Headquarters concurred in this request and asked the development of a divided skirt for drivers.

However, Requirements Division, Army Service Forces, refused the request on the grounds that the Director herself had rejected culottes at the time the uniform was decided upon. The Director thereupon acknowledged her mistake but renewed the request, saying, "In March 1942 there were no Waacs on duty in the field and therefore no recommendations or decision could be based on actual experience." This question went as far as the Acting Chief of Staff, Army Service Forces, who supported Requirements Division's view and refused the request.32

The demand for a work garment continued too strong to stem, and later in the spring of 1943 Director Hobby again appealed to the Army Service Forces: "It has become increasingly evident as larger numbers of WAAC units are assigned to the field . . . that a trousered garment for exercise, fatigue, and other heavy work is vitally necessary." 33  Since Requirements Division would not concur in the design and procurement of slacks or culottes for Waacs, Director Hobby requested, as the only other alternative, that the herringbone twill coveralls be issued to all Waacs, instead of only to drivers.

This action was agreeable to Requirements Division, but, since men had only one type of fatigue clothes, the seersucker exercise dress was deleted from the authorized issue except for use in the training center. Instead of two exercise dresses, each Waac assigned to the field was now issued one coverall. WAAC Headquarters requested two coveralls, but Requirements Division decided that one would be adequate and that Waacs in active work could later get two by turning in one skirt and one shirt. The Des Moines Motor Transport School attempted to get three or four coveralls for student drivers, so that coveralls could be sent to the ten-day Quartermaster laundries. The Quartermaster General's Office concurred in this, but Requirements Division disapproved it "in view of the requirements of the using arms and services and the production facilities of industry." 34  The later training centers for a time had difficulty in getting even the allotted number, and drivers at Daytona Beach wore men's Class B blue denim.35


PHYSICAL TRAINING at an Army Air Forces Training Command base in 1943.

PHYSICAL TRAINING at an Army Air Forces Training Command base in 1943.

The adoption of the coveralls did not solve the need for cold-weather work garments, for which requests continued to come in from both Army and Air Forces stations. Whereas a man might comfortably wear cotton coveralls over his long winter underwear and wool trousers, a Waac had nothing underneath but her winter panties, only one fourth as heavy as men's winter underwear. In March, what OQMG believed to be women's wool shirts and trousers were issued to drivers only, but these proved greatly oversized and unsuitable.

In late April of 1943, after the Waacs had somehow survived the first winter, The Quartermaster General sent a committee to investigate the situation at Fort Des Moines and make recommendations on winter clothing. The committee recommended that all Waacs in cold climates, regardless of job, get warmer panties and vests (50 percent wool instead of the current 25 percent) and also wool shirts and knee-length wool stockings. All outdoor workers should also get long wool drawers and long-sleeved undershirts, trousers with an inner wool liner and outer windproof cover, field jackets with liners and covers, leggings, and wool caps. Director Hobby


concurred, pointing out that much training time had been lost at Fort Des Moines and Fort Devens for lack of warm clothing. However, Requirements Division did not favorably consider the field jacket, leggings, and 50 percent wool underwear for women, or the wool waist, trousers, and liner for any except drivers.36

Warm-weather clothing was equally deficient, according to reports from hospitals and stations in semitropical climates. These, finding the heavy A uniform totally unsuited to a hot climate or to hospital ward work, had fallen into the admittedly undesirable practice of allowing Waacs to wear the short seersucker exercise dress for many types of jobs, even desk jobs in head quarters where they were fully visible to employees and visitors. The dress was also worn for kitchen police and barracks duties where the long-sleeved coverall was too hot. Just as the decision was rendered to substitute coveralls for exercise dresses, many southern stations were writing to plead for four or more of the exercise dresses instead of two.

The Army Air Forces' large Training Command, which at one time utilized almost one sixth of the entire WAAC personnel, was particularly hard-hit, since the majority of its airfields were along the southern border in Florida, Louisiana, Texas, and the southwestern desert. A study prepared by this command pointed out that at many fields the temperature never went below 90 or 100 for months at a time and often rose as high as 135 F. Enlisted women were obliged to wear two shirts a day and wash them at night, since there were no laundries on the fields. The Air Forces study concluded that Waacs must be immediately issued at least five short-sleeved shirts in addition to their regular ones, three exercise suits instead of the two then issued, and four pairs of cotton anklets instead of the three wool ones then issued. In reply, the AAF received what it considered an inexplicable decision that no additional clothing would be issued and that even the two exercise suits would be taken away and replaced by a heavy coverall.37

In May of 1943, three months before the refusal of the Air Forces' request, the Director had made a similar recommendation: that the Quartermaster Corps redesign the exercise dress into a seersucker summer uniform like that of the WAVES and Women Marines. The Quartermaster General concurred and visualized the development of one standard short-sleeved work dress, longer and better fitted than the exercise dress, which could be worn by cooks, hospital workers; women in tropical climates, and any others who needed such a dress. The Quartermaster Corps began to study this problem in 1943 but no summer dress for universal on-duty wear was produced during World War II.

The lack of such a dress was felt most strongly by hospitals, where WAAC workers had no uniform comparable to the nurses' white or seersucker uniforms. Some Waacs wore seersucker fatigue dresses if they had received any before issue was discontinued. This practice was pronounced unsanitary, since the same dress was worn for physical training, recreation, kitchen police, and barracks fatigue duties, and with only two dresses a Waac could not


use the hospital laundry but either wore her dress a week unwashed or washed one herself every night. Even so, the two exercise dresses were more suitable than the one coverall that replaced them.38

The Quartermaster Corps, on being informed of the problem, was agreeable to issuing hospital Waacs the WAAC cook-baker dress, a neat cool wrap-around white garment which could be dyed any desired pastel shade to distinguish Waacs from nurses. However, The Surgeon General's Office objected: "Fatigue clothes are worn by enlisted men of the medical department and there should be no exception for members of the WAAC stationed at hospitals." Waacs, this office said, could wear either their coveralls or surgical gowns. Requirements Division, ASF, concurred with The Surgeon General's Office and overruled the Quartermaster Corps. They held firm in this ruling all summer even after stations in the field pointed out that enlisted men on duty in clinics and laboratories often did get four pairs of cook's white trousers and six white coats. The surgical gown shortly proved most unsatisfactory for women working in men's wards: it was too long, frequently dragging on the floor. Worse, it was open all the way down the back and a uniform was not customarily worn underneath in warm weather. 39

With hundreds of similar field requests on file, the Army Service Forces held unswervingly to its policy that no additions or changes would be made to the originally authorized uniform either in type or amount. Fort Bragg, North Carolina, asked increased issue of dresses and aprons for cooks and bakers because of the intense summer heat, the coal ranges used, and the ten-day laundry service. This was refused by The Quartermaster General's Office on the grounds that the material was needed instead for grain bags and civilian clothing. Recruiting offices in Virginia asked that all stockings issued them be rayon instead of half the issue in cotton, which produced a bad public reaction. The Director approved this request and asked that all Waacs assigned outside Army posts be issued rayon stockings only, but was refused by The Quartermaster General on the grounds that rayon did not wear as long as cotton stockings.

Director Hobby asked that, if Waacs could not have a garrison cap, they be issued two summer hats, since the current issue of one made cleaning and blocking impossible. No immediate action was taken on this request; OQMG had on hand only 262,000 extra summer caps and feared that a sudden influx of recruits might cause a shortage. In only one minor case did the Army Service Forces grant a request for change: late in August of 1943 it authorized WAAC recruiters to receive an extra summer jacket, skirt, and cap, after it was demonstrated by a year in the field that recruiters had to wear the full uniform daily and could not wear fatigue clothing while their one jacket and cap were being cleaned.40

The trend of Requirements Division's policy was in fact in the opposite direction-the systematic deletion of all items of the original authorization that men did


not wear. These included summer and winter pajamas, galoshes, handkerchiefs, dress shields, athletic shoes, and summer and winter bathrobes.41

Next, a Quartermaster committee "made personal investigations at Fort Des Moines" and found that only 25 percent of the women were wearing the issue girdles, others preferring to wear none or to purchase a favorite brand commercially.42  The Quartermaster Corps felt that Waacs should be given, in lieu of the issue, money to purchase the brassieres and girdles of their choice, and WAAC Headquarters concurred. However, this plan would have required amendatory legislation and, after various unsuccessful attempts to draw up the legislation in general terms, the Army's Legislative and Liaison Division retreated in disorder. One colonel in this division recommended that the proper physical appearance of Waacs be attained by exercise and good posture, and not by the use of "surgical contraptions." If the government was to issue brassieres and girdles to women, he wrote, then "such devices could well be considered for the officers and enlisted men." 43  The issue of girdles and brassieres was therefore stopped. Several months later, when such items became very scarce on the commercial market; the Director requested that the issue be resumed, but this request was refused by The Quartermaster General.

Public Reaction to Unsuitable Uniforms

By this time it was unfortunately impossible to conceal from the American public the fact that the WAAC uniform and supply program had become a tragicomedy of errors. Gallup polls showed that eligible prospects for enlistment rated the WAAC uniform last in attractiveness, after the

Marines', Waves', and Spars' uniforms. The citizenry at large was inspired with a desire to be helpful, and letters poured in from housewives, designers, Congressmen, soldiers, and other interested bystanders. All writers were firmly convinced that adoption of their ideas would immediately end the WAAC's recruiting difficulties.44

Many ideas, particularly those from Army stations and Waacs in the field, were practical and sound, but required major revisions, which could not have been made during the expansion period without greatly delaying contracts, and which could not be made afterward in view of the necessity of wearing out huge stocks of already-procured items. The same public that condemned the Waacs' appearance was not ready to support expensive measures such as discarding thousands of dollars worth of unsightly and ill-fitting garments. When recruiting advertisements pointed out that Waacs received certain fine-quality items worth a total of $250 (although actually costing the government half that) irate readers wrote to ask why the taxpayers' money was spent in this fashion. Later, Congressional committees were to investigate the alleged expenses.45


The final solution of the WAAC uniform problems was impossible at this time. It waited upon the day when the Director's Office was removed from the Army Service Forces and when The Quartermaster General had organized a specialist group for the development of Wacs' and nurses' clothing. Meanwhile, the extent to which the state of the uniform had damaged recruiting in the intervening months was always to remain a matter for speculation. WAAC authorities actually attributed less importance to this factor than did the general public. Although many women informed recruiters that this was their reason for not enlisting, and although many men used this argument to discourage women from enlisting, later events were to indicate that this excuse was nothing more than a red herring offered by individuals who would have disapproved of enlistment in any case.

Director Hobby offered scant sympathy to those who wrote her that their patriotic desire to enlist was impeded only by the uniform. To one such person she personally dictated and signed a reply: "Since the uniform is of so much importance to you in making your decision to join one of the women's services, I suggest that you select the service which, in your opinion, has the most attractive uniform." 46  Significantly, the complainers did not do so. The WAVES, with their smart Main-bocher-designed uniforms, never recruited the numbers of women that the WAAC and WAC did, and the weekly intake of the WAVES, SPARS, and Women Marines fluctuated constantly in close proportion to that of the WAAC.47 The cause of recruiting difficulty, for any women's service, was to be proved more complex than any mere reaction to the appearance of a uniform.


Page Created August 23 2002


Previous Chapter        Next Chapter

Return to the Table of Contents