Military Wiki

WAC Air Controller by Dan V. Smith, 1943.

The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the women's branch of the United States Army. It was created as an auxiliary unit, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on 15 May 1942 by Public Law 554,[1] and converted to full status as the WAC in 1943. Its first director was Oveta Culp Hobby, a prominent society woman in Texas.[2][3]


The WAAC organization was designed by numerous Army bureaus coordinated by Lt. Col. Gilman C. Mudgett, the first WAAC Pre-Planner; however, nearly all of his plans were discarded or greatly modified before going into operation because he expected a corps of only 11,000 women.[4]

The WAAC was modeled after comparable British units, especially the ATS, which caught the attention of Chief of Staff George C. Marshall.[5] In 1942, the first contingent of 800 members of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps began basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School, Iowa. The women were fitted for uniforms, interviewed, assigned to companies and barracks and inoculated against disease during the first day.[6]

Pallas Athene, official insignia of the U.S. Women's Army Corps

Calling WAAC...

WACs operate teletype machines during World War II.

A physical training manual titled "You Must Be Fit" was published by the War Department in July 1943, aimed at bringing the women recruits to top physical standards. The manual begins by naming the responsibility of the women: "Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over."[7] It cited the commitment of women to the war effort in England, Russia, Germany and Japan, and emphasized that the WAC recruits must be physically able to take on any job assigned to them. The fitness manual was state-of-the-art for its day, with sections on warming up, and progressive body-weight strength-building exercises for the arms, legs, stomach, and neck and back. It included a section on designing a personal fitness routine after basic training, and concluded with "The Army Way to Health and Added Attractiveness" with advice on skin care, make-up, and hair styles.[7]

About 150,000[8] American women served in the WAAC and WAC during World War II. They were the first women other than nurses to serve with the Army.[9] While conservative opinion in the leadership of the Army and public opinion generally was initially opposed to women serving in uniform, the shortage of men necessitated a new policy. While most women served stateside, some went to various places around the World, including Europe, North Africa and New Guinea. For example, WACs landed on Normandy Beach just a few weeks after the initial invasion.[10]

Many men ferociously opposed allowing women in uniform, warning their sisters and friends they would be seen as lesbians or prostitutes. They feared that if women became soldiers they would no longer serve in a masculine preserve and their masculinity would be devalued.[11] Others feared being sent into combat units if women took over the safe jobs.[12]

General Douglas MacArthur called the WACs "my best soldiers", adding that they worked harder, complained less, and were better disciplined than men.[13] Many generals wanted more of them and proposed to draft women but it was realized that this "would provoke considerable public outcry and Congressional opposition" and the War Department declined to take such a drastic step.[14] Those 150,000 women who did serve released the equivalent of 7 divisions of men for combat. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower said that "their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable".[15]

During the same time period, other branches of the U.S. military had similar women's units, including the Navy WAVES, the SPARS of the Coast Guard and the (civil) Women Airforce Service Pilots. The British Armed Forces also had similar units, including the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.

The WAC as a branch was disbanded in 1978. Women serving as WACs at that time converted their branches to whatever Military Occupational Specialty they were working in. Since then, women in the U.S. Army have served in the same units as men, though they have only been allowed in or near combat situations since 1994 when Defense Secretary Les Aspin ordered the removal of "substantial risk of capture" from the list of grounds for excluding women from certain military units.

List of Directors

Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby   (1942–1945)
Colonel Westray Battle Boyce   (1945–1947)
Colonel Mary A. Hallaren   (1947–1953)
Colonel Irene O. Galloway   (1953–1957)
Colonel Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson   (1957–1962)
Colonel Emily C. Gorman   (1962–1966)
Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington   (1966–1971)
Brigadier General Mildred Inez Caroon Bailey   (1971–1975)
Brigadier General Mary E. Clarke   (1975–1978)

Louisiana Register of State Lands Ellen Bryan Moore attained the rank of captain in the WACs and once recruited three hundred women at a single appeal to join the force.[16]

Popular culture

  • The 1954 film Francis Joins the WACS stars Francis the Talking Mule, who joins the Women's Army Corps.
  • The 1945 film Keep Your Powder Dry features Lana Turner joining the WACs, which starred Agnes Moorehead, while sporting uniforms designed by Hollywood designer Irene and hair styled by Sydney Guilaroff.
  • The 1949 film I Was a Male War Bride depicts Cary Grant as a French officer who married an American WAC, played by Ann Sheridan and their escapades as he attempts to emigrate to the United States under the auspices of the 1945 War Brides Act.
  • The song "Surrender" by Cheap Trick is about a babyboomer child of a former member of the WAC who served in the Philippines.
  • Mare's War, a novel by Tanita S. Davis, centers around an African-American girl who joins the WAC.
  • On an episode of The Looney Tunes Show, Granny tells Daffy Duck a story where she served as a WAC and prevented the theft of the Eiffel Tower and numerous artworks from The Louvre.
  • Miss Grundy, a teacher in the Archie Comics series, was a WAC.
  • The Phil Silvers Show makes numerous references to the WACs. Several of the supporting cast, such as Sgt. Joan Hogan (Elisabeth Fraser), are members of the WAC and many of the gags and jokes in the show revolve around woman in the army.

See also


  1. Moore, Brenda. (1996). To Serve My Country, To Serve My Race. New York: New York University Press.
  2. Treadwell 1954, pp. 28–30
  3. Meyer 1996, pp. 16–18
  4. Treadwell, pp. 26–28
  5. Bernard A. Cook, Women and war: a historical encyclopedia from antiquity to the present (2006) Volume 1 p. 242
  6. Treadwell & 1954 ch 3–4
  7. 7.0 7.1 W. A. C. Field Manual Physical Training" (FM 35-20). War Department, 15 July 1943. United States Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
  8. Bellafaire 1972, p. 2
  9. "Video: American Army Women Serving On All Fronts Etc. (1944)". Universal Newsreel. 1944. Retrieved February 21, 2012. 
  10. Treadwell 1954, pp. 387–388
  11. Campbell, ch 1
  12. Treadwell 1954, p. 184
  13. Treadwell 1954, p. 460
  14. Treadwell 1954, pp. 95–96
  15. Treadwell 1954, p. 408
  16. "Interview with Ellen Bryan Moore". T. Harry Williams Center for Oral History, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Louisiana. September–October 1995. 



  • Samford, Doris E (1966). Ruffles and Drums. Pruett Press, Boulder, Colorado. ASIN B0006BP2XS. 
  • Earley, Charity Adams (1989). One Woman's Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC. Texas A&M University Press. ISBN 0-89096-694-X. 
  • Moore, Brenda L. (1996). To Serve My Country, to Serve My Race: The Story of the Only African-American WACs Stationed Overseas during World War II. New York University Press. ISBN 0-8147-5587-9. 
  • Starbird, Ethel A. (2010). When Women First Wore Army Shoes: A first-person account of service as a member of the Women's Army Corps during WWII. iUniverse. ISBN 1-4502-0893-2. 

External links

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