“Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over.”
– From the physical training manual published by the War Department in July 1943, entitled “You Must Be Fit” which was intended to bring the women recruits to top physical condition. On today’s date, May 15 in 1942, a bill establishing a women’s corps as a part of the U.S. Army became law, creating the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAACs) and granting women official military status. It is difficult to imagine the men who supported this measure could have had any idea of today’s military with women in every facet of duty, including combat roles. But that’s what they were going for: right there in black and white.
The Legislation for the WAACs
Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts (below), one of the first women ever elected to congress, introduced this legislation which would make it possible for women to serve in non-combat positions in the army. Rogers had been active in volunteer work for the Red Cross and had served in overseas military hospitals. As a member of congress from 1925 onward she was appointed to the Committee on
Veterans Affairs. Rep. Rogers introduced the legislation in May of 1941, but was held up for months until the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 put the matter on a faster track… still it wasn’t until today’s date in 1942 that it finally passed, although a section backing the enlistment of 150,000 volunteers was at first limited by executive order to 25,000. At first the benefits that went to men were greater than women, but by July 1942 a bill dropped the word “Auxiliary” from the name making them WACs and they were granted full Army benefits in keeping with the men.
“My best soldiers….”
The work that the WACs were assigned covered a great many different sorts of occupations. Air Traffic Control, Radio Operations, Electrician work on down to basic Office Clerking jobs and occasional mechanic’s work were all areas that women covered. But the Army always made it clear that these jobs would free men up for combat work, in order to soothe public sensitivities about having women in the military. The
work they did must have been done well as Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur referred to the WACs as “my best soldiers” adding that they were better disciplined, complained less, and in general worked harder than the men. All told once they were allowed to serve in greater numbers, the (Above: WAC Signal Corps Operators)150,000 who did serve freed up the equivalent of 7 full divisions of men for combat. No less an authority than Gen. Dwight Eisenhower said: “their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable”
The WACs Give Way to the Modern Military
As a separate branch of the military the WAC was in 1978 disbanded, and all of the women’s units were integrated with their male counterparts. WACs then were moved into whatever Military Specialty they had been working in before. And ever since that time, women have worked with men in the same units. This has included work in or nearby combat areas. In 1994 Les Aspin directed that “substantial risk of capture” could no longer used as grounds for keeping women out of some military units. So there you have it! That basic purpose stated so boldly way back in the original WAC manual : “Your Job: To Replace Men. Be Ready To Take Over.” has been more than fulfilled.