During World War II, the United States Army established a unit which allowed women to fill non- combat roles. Prior to the creation of this unit women mostly served as nurses supporting combat troops. In May 1941, Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill to establish a women's corps in the U.S. Army. The bill included the goals of securing a salary and benefits comparable to their male counterparts. The bill gained support after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December. 1942. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, the bill became law on May 15, 1942.
The law established the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), which was given official status and salary, but few of the benefits afforded to male soldiers. In July 1943, after thousands of women had enlisted, the Army changed the name to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) and granted members full Army benefits. Despite initial public resistance, the WAAC/WAC were successful in taking over clerical, radio, electrical, and air-traffic positions. More than 150,000 American women served in the Women's Army Corps during World War II. In 1980, 16,000 women who had joined as WAACs were granted veteran's benefits.
Second Lieutenant Alice C. Thompson, L-201903, was one such woman who served in the WAC unit. She is shown in the image with her Women's Army Corps (WAC) Honor Platoon. The platoon received Good Conduct Ribbons during WAC Day on February 19, 1944 in Newport News, VA. The ribbons were awarded to enlisted personnel who had completed at least one year of exemplary behavior while serving in the United States Army.
Citation: United States Army Signal Corps. 2nd Lt. Alice C. Thompson, L-201903. Newport News, Va.: U.S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Roads Port of Embarkation, 1944. Prints & Photographs, Special Collections, Library of Virginia.
English: 4.7, 5.7
Scan It: Look at the photo of the WAC soldiers and examine their uniforms, posture, and facial expressions. What does this image reveal about the women and their roles during World War II?
Up for Debate: The WAC is not always mentioned in textbook accounts of America during World War II. Do you think that textbook publishers should make a more concerted effort to portray women in the military? Write a short opening statement in which you express your views. Be prepared to share with the class or in small groups.
Form an Opinion: Write a letter home to your parents or a friend as if you were a member of the WAAC who was not receiving the full benefits granted to your male counterparts. In your latter include what you would like to be seen done to remedy the situation and how your family might support your efforts to get benefits.