In May 1941, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts, the first congresswoman ever from New England, introduced legislation that would enable women to serve in the Army in noncombat positions. Rogers was well suited for such a task; during her husband John J. Rogers’ term as congressman, Rogers was active as a volunteer for the Red Cross, the Women’s Overseas League, and military hospitals. She was eventually appointed to the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, as chairwoman in the 80th and 83rd Congresses.
The bill to create a Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps would not be passed into law for a year after it was introduced (the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a great incentive). But finally, the WAACs gained official status and salary—but still not all the benefits accorded to men. Thousands of women enlisted in light of this new legislation, and in July 1942, the “auxiliary” was dropped from the name, and the Women’s Army Corps, or WACs, received full Army benefits in keeping with their male counterparts.
On this day, May 15, 1942, a bill establishing a women’s corps in the U.S. Army became law, creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) and granting women official military status.
The WACs performed a wide variety of jobs, “releasing a man for combat,” as the Army, sensitive to public misgivings about women in the military, touted. But those jobs ranged from clerk to radio operator, electrician to air-traffic controller. Women served in virtually every theater of engagement, from North Africa to Asia.
Sadly, it would not be until 1980 that 16,000 women who had joined the earlier WAACs would receive veterans’ benefits, and there was the whole issue of allowing them to be buried in Arlington that wasn’t finally resolved until last year.
Not only were the men of the greatest generation, but so were the women. They stepped up in many fields, not just the military, but the factories, the plants, the assembly lines that allowed America to go to war and win!
Your mother wore combats boots wasn’t an insult, but a matter of pride in those days…
I can only wonder what those women would think of the women of today…