Women in the American Armed Forces
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Women in the American Armed Forces
More than 350,000 women served in the American Armed Forces during World War II. The overall philosophy and purpose of the organizations was to allow women to support the war effort against Germany and Japan directly and independently, but without participating in warfare. The help of women in WAAC or WAC, WAVES, SPARS, WASP, and other services allowed the Army to make use of available labor and freed men in the service for combat.
In the early 1940’s, various women’s military organizations starting with the WAAC were established. Congresswoman Edith Rogers first proposed the Women’s Auxiliary Corps, known by many as WAC, as a bill to General George C. Marshall. Rogers wanted to create an organization where women would receive equal pay, pension, and disability benefits for their service in the Armed Forces. Congress passed the WAAC bill in May 1942 which stated that food, uniforms, living quarters, pay, and medical care would be provided to 150,000 auxiliaries for their services in the military. The WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services) were established in July of 1942 by the Navy to serve on U.S. and Allied ships in non-combat zones. The U. S. Coast Guard founded the SPARS later that year in order to “free” men working aboard the ships to serve in the Army. The acronym SPARS stands for the Coast Guard motto: Semper Paratus Always Ready which honestly represented the women in SPARS who often risked their lives in sometimes hostile waters. The Women Marines was a specialized sector in the U.S. Marines, which was created in order to send reinforcements of male marines into the Pacific. Jacqueline Cochran, a well-known women pilot, proposed WASP to General Arnold, the Air Force Chief, in early 1943. She wanted to bring together a corps of women pilots to train to replace male pilots in such tasks as test flying new planes so they could head to the war front.
One out of five women enlisted in the armed forces because a male member of her family was in the military and she wanted to hasten his return. Several women in the WAAC had connections to men who had been killed, were prisoners of war, or who were fighting overseas. One WAC was a combat widow from Pearl Harbor who wanted revenge against the enemy and believed that her aid in the war might assist Japan’s defeat. Women joined the military for many different reasons. Many women from small towns or farms viewed the military as an escape and an opportunity and some believed the experience gained would help them find better jobs in the future. Some women joined the WAC in order to be eligible for the GI Bill, which helped fund housing and educational grants to colleges and universities. Patriotism proved to be enough reason for many women to enroll who wanted to aid in the defeat of the Nazis and the Japanese. All women in the Armed Forces professed a desire to aid their country in its time of need by “releasing a man for combat duty.”
While the women were legally accepted into the Armed Forces the American public generally didn’t accept them. Congressman J. Somers opposed the idea of the WAACs from the beginning saying that if they joined the Army then their “humble homey tasks” would be left undone. The WACs were often depicted as “a ridiculous army experiment” and local newspapers mocked the women in cartoons by portraying them in hair curlers and floral bathrobes while standing in attention. Letters home from soldiers enlisted in the armed forces contained much criticism of the female soldiers even though most had never encountered a WAC on the front. Many men felt threatened by the change “back home” that would come from women in the militia. Eighty-four percent of the letters mentioning the WAAC were unfavorable and many of the male soldiers questioned the morals of the women attracted to military service and passed these beliefs onto their families at home in the U.S. Such letters led to rumors that ninety percent of women in the Armed Forces were prostitutes and that forty percent of them were pregnant. Many men disliked the women in military service because they didn’t want to be thrown onto
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American women in World War II, Gender studies, Women in World War II, SPARS, WAVES, Women in the military, United States Marine Corps Womens Reserve, Jacqueline Cochran, United States Armed Forces, Womens Army Corps
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