350,000 women served in the military during World War II, of these 150,000 were members of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAACS) led by the service’s first director, Oveta Culp Hobby.
African American WAACS at Ft. DesMoines
The eligibility requirements were straightforward: each woman must be a U.S. citizen, 21-45 years of age with no dependents, at least 5 ft. tall and weighing a minimum of 100 pounds.
The service of these women was a critical element of the U.S. war effort. They took on jobs in the military that would free service men to be on the front lines. Primarily they worked in clerical jobs, in medical units, in the motor pool, as radio operators, in military post offices and as cryptographers.
The WAACS were the first of these services to allow Black service women (1942). Forty black women who entered the first WAAC officer candidate class were placed in a separate platoon; most had attended college.
But the transition of women in the military 70 years ago was not easy or smooth. By early 1943, the number of women joining the WAACS dropped dramatically due to a backlash of public opinion against women in the armed forces. 84% of letters received by the families of male soldiers were critical of WAACS.
Still, America’s World War II service women played an important role in the war. Some women served in combat zones, were held as prisoners of war in the Philippines, conducted undercover operations, and sacrificed their lives.
For more information about women in the U. S. military during World War II check out the National Women’s History Museum “Partners in Winning the War” web page at:
And the archive at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro The Betty H. Carver Women Veterans Historical Project at:
An excellent bibliography on the WWII service of black women in the military “We Served America Too” is available at:
- 150,000 WAACs served during WWII; 6,520 African American WAACS
- 35,000 women applied for WAACS officer’s training school
- The first WAAC training center was at Ft. Desmoines training began in 1942..
- Successful service of WAACS led to a permanent corps in 1948 with the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act; but not until the 1970s were women fully assimilated into the army
- 100,000 women were members of the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency)
- The Airforce also had a contingent of women service members called Women Airforce Service Pilots or WASPs.
Cheryl Head’s first novel, Home Front, is the story of two, black World War II soldiers (one a WAAC) serving in a segregated Army base near Tucson, Arizona. It is a love story.