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There are many unsung heroes who served in World War Two. For my research, I will explore some of the many ways in which courageous women served in the armed forces. I will investigate the following questions: how they were recruited; what types of obstacles, barriers and/or prejudice they encountered; what types of jobs or duties were available to them; and what type of treatment they received in the military as well as in the public sector.

Women played a major part in war efforts of World War Two, they were instrumental in keeping the peace, transporting goods, as well as assisting the servicemen in the field. They served in every theater of the war and in served many traditional as well as nontraditional roles. According to Grunhitz-Hoyt, women who served in traditional roles often received better treatment than those who were in nontraditional ones. (xvi)

More than a year before the U.S. entered WW II the military realized that it would need large numbers of women to handle clerical, communications and other support functions. The War and Navy Departments hired women between June 30, 1940 and 1941. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor the armed services found they needed women under military control, women they could assign where needed. Patriotism was high, women were proud to have the opportunity to serve. They knew that they were responsible for helping the United States win the war. (Gruhzit-Hoyt)

During the early years of World War Two women were recruited to serve in many ways

American women served in the following branches of service during World War Two:


 Army Nurse Corps

 Woman Army Corps/Woman s Army Auxiliary Corps – WACS/WAACS


 Women s Airforce Service Pilots WASPS


 Navy Nurse Corps

 Women Appointed For Voluntary Emergency Service – WAVES

Marine Corps

 US Marine Corps Women s Reserve – Marinettes

Coast Guard

 United States Coast Guard Women s Reserve SPARS

During World War Two, approximately 400,000 American military women served stateside and overseas. (Littoff & Smith 35-36)

Recruitment Requirements

 In order to be considered for enlistment in any branch of service applicants had to be United States citizens and be between the ages of 21 and 45. For most branches of the service she could have no dependents, be at least five feet tall, and weigh 100 pounds or more. (Bellafaire)

 Only registered nurses were eligible for military service. (Bellafaire)

 WASPS recruits had to be at least 21 years old and could not have children under 14. WASPs were accepted as young as 18 if the woman had a pilot’s license and flight experience. She also had to pass a personal interview and evaluation. The majority of the WASPs were white with the exception of two Chinese-American women who were accepted into the program. (Merryman 14-15)

Women who served in the armed forces were faced with many obstacles/prejudices and barriers some of these include:

 Disapproval from parents who did not believe that their daughters should enlist, and from people who believed that “nice girls” didn’t serve in the military. (Gruhzit-Hoyt 4:xvi,x)

 Even though the military asked for their service, women did not find it easy to sign up. Black women faced the biggest barriers. Because of racial discrimination, they weren’t even allowed into the post offices to pick up applications for service. (Moore 2)

 Service opportunities for African American women were very limited due to the fact that many branches of the service refused to admit them. African American women had no other choice but to join the Army because that was the only branch of the service that would admit them. (Moore 2)

 As stated by Martha Settle Putney, African American women were faced with segregation, prejudice and barriers in the armed forces that most white women who served didn t face. Regardless of her rank she would be segregated from the white troops, given inferior housing and even officers would be barred from entry into white officer s clubs. (Brokaw 185-90)

 Women were subjected to sexual harassment and attempted rapes. (Meyer 100-121)

 There was a double standard in regard to fraternization between men and women in the service. For example, if a woman dated or married a serviceman she would be punished. But the serviceman would not receive any punishment at all. (Gruhzit-Hoyt 128-134)

 They found that chances for transfer and promotion were extremely limited, and many women served throughout the war at the posts to which they were initially assigned. (Bellafaire)

 The press and media often made attacks on women who served in the military, sometimes depicting them as lesbians or scatterbrained females. (Meyer 113)

Job Duties and Assignments

According to Gruhzit-Hoyt, Women had limited choices for serving in World War II. Women who served in traditional roles such as nursing and Red Cross positions received the best treatment. Women who worked in highly specialized jobs such as the Office of Strategic Services where educational levels were high also received better treatment. (4:xvi)

Gruhzit-Hoyt reports that they continued to be “file clerks, office workers, cooks, and bakers; they also worked as auto mechanics, truck drivers, and pilots, radio operators and cryptographers.” They soon became competent in these jobs, enabling the men to serve in combat, which was one of the primary purposes of women’s recruitment. (4:xvi-xvii)

Despite the prohibition against women serving in designated combat zones, the lines of combat and noncombat areas blurred for some of the women. WACs following the armies into enemy territories throughout Western Europe and into Germany, found themselves endangered by snipers and enemy bombings. Red Cross women encountered these same threats. (4:xix)


According to Gruhzit-Hoyt, only registered nurses were eligible for military service. The Army Nurse Corps included 5,433 women with 823 women in the Navy Nurse Corps at the time of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. At war’s end, 54,291 women were in the Army Nurse Corps and 11,086 in the Navy Nurse Corps. A total of 76,000 women served as military nurses during the War. (8:12)

Nurses served in veteran s hospitals, combat carriers, and overseas. These women were responsible for the care of sick and injured servicemen they often had very limited field equipment and were forced to make due with the supplies that they had at hand. They worked long hours sometimes up to 18 hours a day during times of crisis.

These women were often at great risk of danger themselves, during the war 201 Army nurses died in action. Army nurses in Manila worked through the Japanese bombings and some became prisoners of war for the remainder of the war. The Germans shot down one Army flight evacuation nurse in Europe who became a prisoner of war. (Gruhzit-Hoyt 2:4:70)


 Initially most WACS/WAACS worked as file clerks, typists, stenographers, or motor pool drivers, but gradually each service discovered an increasing number of positions WACS/WAACS were capable of filling. By January 1945 only 50 percent of WAC S held traditional assignments such as file clerk, typist, and stenographer. (Meyer 74-99)

 Women were assigned as weather observers and forecasters, cryptographers, radio operators and repairmen, sheet metal workers, parachute riggers, link trainer instructors, bombsight maintenance specialists, aerial photograph analysts, and control tower operators. (Gruhit-Hoyt 62-99)

 According to Bellafaire:

Women assigned to the Ordnance Department calculated the speed of bullets, measured bomb fragments, mixed gunpowder, and loaded shells. Others worked as draftsmen, mechanics, and electricians, and some received training in ordnance engineering. Many of the WAACs assigned to the Transportation Corps processed men for assignment overseas, handling personnel files and issuing weapons. WAACs served as boat dispatchers and classification specialists. WAACs assigned to the Chemical Warfare Service (ASF) worked both in laboratories and in the field. Some women were trained as glass blowers and made test tubes for the Army’s chemical laboratories. Others field tested equipment such as walkie-talkies and surveying and meteorology instruments. The 250 WAACs assigned to the Quartermaster Corps (ASF) kept track of stockpiles of supplies scattered in depots across the country. Their duties included inspection, procurement, stock control, storage, fiscal oversight, and contract termination. Over 1,200 WAACs assigned to the Signal Corps (ASF) worked as telephone switchboard operators, radio operators, telegraph operators, cryptologists, and photograph and map analysts. WAACs assigned as photographers received training in the principles of developing and printing photographs, repairing cameras, mixing emulsions, and finishing negatives. Women who became map analysts learned to assemble, mount, and interpret mosaic maps. WAACs within the Army Medical Department (ASF) were used as laboratory, surgical, X-ray, and dental technicians as well as medical secretaries and ward clerks, freeing Army nurses for other duties.

 WAACs assigned to Army Ground Forces often felt unwelcome and complained of the intensive discipline imposed upon them. (Bellafaire)

 WAACs found that chances for transfer and promotion were extremely limited, and many women served throughout the war at the posts to which they were initially assigned. (Bellafaire)


According to Gruhzit-Hoyt and Merryman, during the early months of World War II, there was a critical shortage of male pilots. America’s leading woman pilot, Jacqueline Cochran, convinced the Chief of the Army Air Forces, General Henry Arnold, that she could bring together a corps of women pilots. If given the same Army Air Force flying training as that given to the AAF male cadets, the women would be equally capable of flying military aircraft and could relieve male pilots needed for combat duty. (Gruhzit-Hoyt 4:xvi,xix). As Merryman illustrates, WASPS were considered civilian volunteers during their two-year term of duty.

Merryman quotes former WASP Madge Rutherford Minton:

We had no insurance. We got $250 a month to fly the most dangerous and heaviest airplanes that were deployed by the United State Air Forces. We had to pay our own board bill; we bought our own uniforms . (Merryman 6),

 The WASPS were an elite group, only 1,830 of 25,000 women volunteers who applied were accepted for pilot training. WASPS received the same training as their male counterparts. (Lisowski)

 Missions included ferrying aircraft, towing targets for live air-to-air gunnery practice and live anti-aircraft artillery practice, simulated strafing and night tracking missions, flight testing aircraft, smoke laying, radio control flying, transporting cargo and personnel and serving as instrument and flight instructors for Army Air Force cadets. (Grunhzit-Hoyt 150 52) (Merryman 1-13),

 Conflicting evidence exists about the treatment of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). Gruhzit-Hoyt reports that the WASP units were treated better than women in many other positions since women pilots had often logged more hours than the men they worked with. (4:xvi,xix). Merryman tells a different story, she reports that resistance was strong against the WASP and this may have accounted for some of their deaths. Women pilots who towed targets reported gunner trainees shot deliberately at the planes resulting in the resignations of some WASPs who feared for their lives. (51-61)

 Thirty-eight WASP S lost their lives while serving their country as military pilots. (Lisowski)

American Red Cross

During World War II, the women of the Red Cross played an important role. The Red Cross helped the wounded with aid and medical treatment. The Red Cross canteens welcomed American troops. The Red Cross would treat and bandage up the wounded soldiers. Army nurses and Red Cross hospital workers set up field and evacuation hospitals. The American Red Cross drove clubmobiles to isolated outposts to give out coffee and donuts to the soldiers. Many Red Cross nurses were wounded and killed while saving the lives of wounded soldiers, and some were taken as prisoners. (Gruhzit-Hoyt 220-248)

The Disbanding of the Auxiliary Units

By the end war the auxiliary branches of the service were disbanded, women who had served in all branches of the service stateside and relieved or replaced men for combat duty overseas were relieved of their duties. Most with the exception of the WAC s were denied full miltiary status and were not eligible for the benefits such as the G.I. Bill to pay for schooling, low interest housing loans or VA benefits. They were not considered veterans, only auxiliary units. (Meyer 182)

According to Meyers, it would take several years after World War II for women to secure a permanent place in the nation’s Armed Forces. The Armed Forces Integration Act in 1948 led the way for the women of the 1960s and 70s to expanded their roles in the Army and take up the struggle in the other military services. These women paved the way for future generations of women not only in the armed forces but in the public sector as well.

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