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When the United States entered World War II, the role of American women in a total war effort had not been clearly defined. That role was to remain a subject of controversy throughout the war. But while congressmen, military planners, the public at large, and women themselves argued over their proper place, the need for women’s clerical skills became the opening wedge which resulted in their widespread use in traditional as well as unprecedented jobs, both civilian and military. As the youngest arm, with fewer traditions and inhibitions than the other branches of the Army, the AAF was an enthusiastic employer of women almost from the beginning of the war. Indeed, it used nearly one-half of the peak strength of 100,000 who served in the Women’s Army Corps. The effort to bring women into the Army, however, was a long and complicated one and nowhere met with more initial resistance than in the War Department General Staff.

The nation’s manpower shortage, which did not begin to become acute until 1942,1 forced military planners to look with increasing favor on the large reservoir of womanpower. There were already thirteen million women employed in the United States, but there were approximately nineteen million others, between the ages of twenty and sixty, who were not gainfully employed.2 War Department planners reluctantly regarded the younger women of this group as suitable for several types of jobs within the Army, while advocates of a draft for women urged their use on a wider scale as a means of releasing married men and fathers from selective service.

Proponents of the use of womanpower in the military establishment could find precedents in Allied and American experience during World War I and in Allied experience during the early years of


World War II. In the first conflict small groups of American women were sent overseas as civilian contract employees to serve in such positions as telephone operators, clerical workers, and chauffeurs with the AEF. When requests for a women’s corps were turned down in 1918 by the War Department, the AEF borrowed from the British Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps. Even for posts within the United States the Army had difficulty in obtaining sufficient numbers of female civil service employees. The Navy was likewise hampered by a shortage of clerical workers; but a neat, if legally dubious, solution was found by interpreting the enlistment law, which covered “any citizen of the United States,” to mean that women were not excluded. As a result, during World War I, nearly thirteen thousand women were enlisted in the Navy and Marine Corps, most of them serving as Yeomen (F), with the same status as enlisted men. There is evidence that the Army might have been forced to take similar action if the war had not ended in 1918.3

Between wars the Army made several studies of the use of women in the military establishment. Perhaps the most exhaustive and prophetic study was prepared in 1928 by Maj. Everett s. Hughes, who recognized the necessity of using women in any future war. He recommended that women serving overseas and in danger zones be militarized, used “as required in corps areas, branches and theaters of operations, organized according to tables of organization, and accorded the same rights, privileges, and benefits as militarized men.”4 Shunted about from one office to another, with copious indorsements over a period of two years, the Hughes plan was eventually interred in the War Department files, where it remained undiscovered until near the end of 1942.5

With the approach of World War II, Army planners late in 1939 again tackled the problem of a women’s corps, this time visualizing the possible use of women as “hostesses, librarians, canteen clerks, cooks and waitresses, chauffeurs, messengers, and strolling minstrels.” Although the resulting plan, which opposed giving women full military status, was laid aside without further action,6 pressure mounted from several sources to keep the issue alive. American military observers in England reported on the indispensable women’s auxiliaries which they saw in action, and their reports were accompanied by warnings that any American forces sent overseas could not expect to borrow from these auxiliaries because of the British manpower shortage.7


It was common knowledge, moreover, that in China and Russia women were taking an active part in national defense, doing manual labor, front-line duty, and other tasks traditionally reserved for men. In the United States various women’s organizations began to demand opportunities for service in the defense effort, either as civilian volunteers or as military personnel.

The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps

When Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts informed Gen. George C. Marshall in the spring of 1941 that she expected to introduce a bill establishing a women’s corps in the Amy, the War Department could no longer avoid the issue. Planners in G-1 Division of the General Staff hurriedly outlined the framework for a women’s organization which would “meet with War Department approval, so that when it is forced upon us, as it undoubtedly will be, we shall be able to run it our way.”8 Mrs. Rogers incorporated the plan in a bill which she introduced in the House of Representatives on 28 May 1941, calling for establishment of a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps.9 The bill was referred to the Bureau of the Budget, which, doubtless to the relief of G-I Division, kept it under consideration for four months, finally recommending in October that the proposed legislation be dropped.10

The events of 7 December 1941 quickly changed the attitude of the Bureau of the Budget, which gave its approval to the Rogers bill four days later. War Department officials now pushed to secure passage of the legislation, which Mrs. Rogers felt “would give thousands of our women an opportunity to do their part in winning our war.” It would make available, she said, “the work of many women who cannot afford to give their services without compensation.”11 Both the Secretary of War and the Chief of Staff urged congressional approval; even though the manpower shortage was not then acute, Secretary Stimson and General Marshall pointed to the Army’s need for women in types of jobs which they traditionally performed better than men. Women in uniform were wanted particularly for the Aircraft Warning Service.*12

A year after its introduction the Rogers bill became Public Law 554 on 15 May 1942, when the President signed the bill creating a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps for service with the Army of the

* See below, p. 510.


United States. The measure permitted the enlistment of 150,000 women between the ages of twenty-one and forty-five, but the executive order which established the corps set an initial strength limit of 25,000.

Obtaining the necessary legislation was only the first of many hurdles to be cleared in creation of an effective women’s corps. Legal authorization did not guarantee public acceptance of the idea of women serving with the Army. Congressional critics had been unable to defeat the measure, but their opinions and predictions of dire consequences reflected the feelings of a large segment of the public. To some congressmen the measure was “the most ridiculous bill” and “the silliest piece of legislation” within their memory. Another legislator found it “foreign” to the proper American attitude toward women, while still another saw it as a reflection on the nation’s men that women should do Army service. The women of the country, said one representative, “those who sew on the buttons, do the cooking, mend the clothing, and do the washing at home,” really wanted to stay in the home.13 Congressional critics were joined by spokesmen for certain religious groups, who were alarmed by this “invasion of the sanctity of the home.”14

The Army itself was unwilling at first to accept this newest addition to its forces. As one colonel put it, in retrospect, “We had a war to fight, and war was man’s business.” Women, he felt, “would only clutter it up.”15 The wartime performance of the Wacs’ altered the attitude of many commanders, including General Eisenhower, who originally was opposed to women in the Army. His observation of the various British women’s services helped to convert him. Later, in North Africa, he found that “many officers were still doubtful of women’s usefulness in uniform.” But such officers were ignoring the changing requirements of war. “The simple headquarters of a Grant or a Lee,” said General Eisenhower after the war, “were gone forever. An army of filing clerks, stenographers, office managers, telephone operators, and chauffeurs had become essential, and it was

* The use of abbreviations in this chapter, though perhaps confusing to the reader unacquainted with the chronology of the Corps, is in accordance with War Department practice and authorization. The abbreviations ‘WAAC“ for the Corps and “Waacs” for its members are used with reference to the auxiliary period of the Corps, up to the summer of 1943, before conversion to full Army status was effected. References to the Corps and to its members after that time are made by the use of “WAC” and “Wacs,” respectively.


scarcely less than criminal to recruit these from needed manpower when great numbers of highly qualified women were available. From the day they first reached us their reputation as an efficient, effective corps continued to grow.”16

Despite the fact that they won commanders’ plaudits, the Wacs were never able to win unanimous acceptance by the military. To many soldiers the WAC was only a subject for crude jokes and injudicious remarks. Army surveys of soldier opinion, conducted at the request of Col. Oveta Culp Hobby, revealed a decidedly unfavorable attitude toward the women’s corps. Only one-fourth of those polled reported that they would like to see a sister or girl friend join the corps. Other surveys showed that one of the reasons women did not join the corps was that almost all of them had heard that the Army was opposed to women in uniform.17

Despite an extensive effort by the Army and high-pressure advertising firms to sell the WAC, many eligible women remained unresponsive to appeals for enlistment. Some women disliked the prospect of military routine and the curtailment of personal liberty; some were afraid that they could not stand the reported rigors of training and regimentation. No doubt, the low pay, as compared with wages offered by the war industries, accounted for much of the recruiting difficulty. Many women were unaware of the variety of jobs open to Wacs; the prospect of kitchen police, laundry duty, and other unattractive types of work had no appeal. Unfounded rumors of immorality, given wide circulation by a New York newspaper columnist, did untold damage to all the women’s services, undoubtedly causing many potential recruits to shy away from the WAC. Some women complained of the unflattering, “tent-like’’ uniform; some found the women’s organizations in the other armed services more attractive than the WAC. Other women were plainly apathetic to the war effort, apparently feeling that, if the nation really needed them, they would be drafted. This, of course, was a logical view, for the nation had never met its military needs without a draft.

Even a temporary lowering of acceptance standards did not enable the corps to meet its goals. The initial rush of volunteers, composed of the genuinely patriotic, the bored, the curious, the economically depressed, was followed by a slump which the WAC was never able to overcome except during sustained drives. Great Britain had had a similar experience, being unable to fill the ranks of WAAFs,


Wrens, and ATS without national conscription. But the United States was not ready to draft its women, and it was unable to arouse in a majority of women a sense of personal responsibility for helping directly with the war effort. Perhaps a weakness during the early months of the recruitment program lay in some of the advertising copy; over the objections of the WAC director, who preferred a straightforward patriotic appeal, advertising experts aimed most of the appeals at self-interest. WAC benefits and the variety of WAC jobs rather than the nation’s needs were stressed, and the attempted glamourization” not only failed to attract the desired number of recruits but also failed to acquaint prospect recruits with the seriousness of the situation. Other women’s services had a similar experience; as summed up by the wartime commander of the SPARS, “We never completely succeeded in putting across the idea that women were really needed and wanted in the armed forces.”18

The Army, like the other services, found that women could be used in a vastly greater number of jobs than originally contemplated.19 And the result was a greater demand for women in the services. As early as November 1942 the WAAC strength limit was raised by executive order from 25,000 to the I 50,000 authorized by Congress.20 G-3 had already recommended that the corps be expanded by 1946 to 1,500,000 members. Fantastic as the figure appeared to some War Department officials, it was given solid support by an exhaustive study of Army jobs which were suitable for women. The project, carried out by The Adjutant General’s office, was termed “the most comprehensive study ever made of the outer limits to which replacement of men in the United States Army could theoretically be pushed.”21 The classification experts concluded that only 222 of the 628 military occupations listed by the Army were unsuitable for women, and in an acute manpower shortage women could be used in many of the 222 jobs. This finding meant that in the fall of 1942 the Army could use 750,000 women, and it was estimated that by the end of 1943 at least 1,323,400 could be placed in “soldiers’ ” jobs.22 Such were the possibilities; the actualities were strikingly different, since the WAC failed by more than 50,000 to reach its original authorized strength of 150,000.

With the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and defense plants all trying to recruit women, competition was naturally keen, and controveries arose among the various agencies in their campaigns



to stimulate enlistments. In the summer of 1943 the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy signed a joint agreement for the recruiting of women, designed to protect the labor supply of industries critical in the prosecution of the war. Further agreements led to the attempted co-ordination of all national newspaper, radio, and motion-picture recruiting activities with the War Manpower Commission and the Office of War Mobilization.23 As a result WAC recruiters were under tremendous pressure to meet their quotas from an ever narrowing field of prospects and often signed up women who were poor prospects for successful adjustment to life in the Army—women who were trying to escape an undesirable home situation, or joining on a spur-of-the-moment fancy, or attempting to be sent at Uncle Sam’s expense to a location near the current boy friend’s post.24

Voluntary recruitment thus provided one of the persistent headaches for the Women’s Army Corps. Other problems stemmed naturally from a program that was frankly experimental in nature, that had to be pieced together from day to day, that found its goals constantly .being enlarged before existing quotas could be met—and all carried out in the face of a certain amount of public ridicule, unfavorable publicity, and internal administrative difficulties. Those Wacs who served in the AAF shared in both the triumphs and the comedy of errors which marked the history of the corps. More important, the AAF Wacs, under the capable direction of Lt. Col. Betty Bandel, pointed the way for solution of many of the corps’ problems, And their pioneering efforts not only contributed to the winning of the war but also had important implications for the future role of women in the Air Forces.

Air Wacs

It was typical of the AAF, with its long-cherished ideas of independence, to desire a separate women’s corps completely independent of the women serving with other branches of the Army.25 The AAF, furthermore, early recognized the need for full Army status, rather than auxiliary status, for the WAAC. These two ideas were temporarily squelched in November 1942 when General Marshall wrote a note to the Chief of Air Staff: “I believe Colonel [Aubry] Moore this morning took up with Mrs. Hobby the question of her attitude toward a separate women’s organization for the Air Corps. I don’t like


the tone of this at all. I want to be told why they cannot train these women, why the present legal, auxiliary status prevents such training. I don’t wish anyone in the Air Corps office to take up without my personal knowledge any question of organizing a separate unit, or any discussion of it except with me first.”26

Although the AAF could not acquire Waacs on its own terms, it was glad to take them on any basis. During the early months of the existence of the WAAC, the Aircraft Warning Service received top priority in the assignment of women in the AAF. The AWS stations, vital to the nation’s defense at a time when enemy air attacks were expected on both coasts, were then being operated by some 6,000 unpaid women volunteers and a few soldiers. But the Air Forces felt that effective operation of the stations required full-time personnel subject to military discipline; this need was met by the assignment of Waacs, who began to arrive at the posts in September 1942 immediately after completing their basic training at Fort Des Moines. These first WAAC companies were so efficient that the AAF, with less than three months’ experience in the use of Waacs, discussed with Director Hobby the possibility of obtaining 540,000 more. As the probability of an air attack on the United States appeared to diminish, however, the War Department decided early in I 943 to replace the Waacs with civilians at all Aircraft Warning Stations except those where it was impossible to obtain volunteers.27 This policy resulted in the reassignment of approximately 3,000 women in March and April 1943, although the AWS managed to keep about half of this number by allotting military vacancies for small clerical detachments at several fighter-command headquarters arid other operations and filter centers.28

In March 1943 the AAF began to receive its first Waacs for use in posts other than AWS stations. Small companies reported for duty at Chanute and Scott Fields and at the Map Chart Division, Jefferson Barracks, Missouri. In the following month twenty-three WAAC units arrived at air bases in the United States, and by the end of September 171 air bases had Wacs as part of their personnel.29 To assist in administration of the WAAC program in the AAF, Colonel Hobby in March 1943 Sent a carefully selected WAAC officer to the headquarters of each of the major air forces and commands.30 These liaison officers became the first WAC “staff directors” and soon proved so valuable that the War Department made the position mandatory in


each major command and each of the principal subordinate commands using WAC personnel.*31

The WAC staff directors were alternately amazed and amused at some of the requests they received. They were the only officers in their commands who had any idea of the organization and administration of the WAC, and there was considerable misunderstanding among the AAF men as to the proper duties for Wacs. One of the most persistent misconceptions was that Wacs should operate Army messes; Air Force officers with visions of food ‘‘just like mother baked” frequently recommended that Wacs take over mess duties. War Department policy, however, limited Wac food-service assignments to the maintenance of WAC messes, thus making the women’s units self-sustaining.32 Requests for “laundry companies” and for individual Wacs to perform in “soldier shows” likewise had to be turned down, for the War Department was wary of any duties which might have an adverse effect upon recruiting or upon public opinion. AAF Headquarters, moreover, discouraged the use of Wacs as military police and gate guards.33

Also of great concern to staff directors was the matter of housing at air bases and installations scattered over the United States. Not only was construction often behind schedule, but the completed barracks were so flimsy and drab that WAC efficiency and morale were seriously affected. The War Department was, of course, hampered by the critical shortage of building materials and the necessity for speed in securing housing accommodations; no distinction was made between housing for transient troops and that for more or less permanent troops. The lack of privacy was a traditional concomitant of Army life, but many older women “grew nervous and irritable under the strain of living in open, noisy barracks with fifty or a hundred lively girls.” And the Wacs who developed back strains in carrying hods of coal no doubt wondered why the AAF could not provide central heating for their barracks.34

Morale was further affected in some cases by the training policies of commanding officers who required Wacs to train the same number of hours a day that men did. A sixteen-hour work day was frequently the result, for the women on clerical assignments could not always leave their offices during the day to take training on duty time, as was

* At the top of the organization was the Air WAC (Miter, adviser to General Arnold.


prescribed. In other cases, Wacs who were assigned to secretarial and clerical jobs in the domestic commands, like enlisted men on such assignments, sometimes wondered why they were in the service when they found themselves doing the same kind of work as the civilian sitting beside them. Their morale was not improved by the knowledge that in some of the busier offices civilian business-machine operators, telephone and TWX operators, and typists were preferred to members of the WAC because they were not called off the job for KP, parades, and other military duties. WAC squadron commanders and civilian personnel officers attempted to explain to both groups that they were needed and that they filled different missions: Wacs could be used as mobile troops and on odd schedules of hours and broken shifts as civilians could not, whereas civilians could be used in numbers which the Wacs could not expect to duplicate.35 Still, the misunderstanding existing in many offices using both WAC and civilian women clerical workers was not appreciably clarified by such explanations.

What, then, kept up the morale of Wacs serving in the AAF on the home front? They could and did “gripe” like the most discontented GI’s. But many of them had an acute sense of responsibility and tremendous personal pride in their squadrons and the higher commands to which they were attached. Because the WAC was experimental and because it was in the public eye, many of its members were anxious to make the organization succeed. Because they were volunteers and because they were women, some of them were determined to prove that they could do their jobs as well as men. But of overriding importance was the knowledge that the AAF wanted them. Although General Arnold was no feminist, he was one of the most powerful champions of the WAC. At the height of the slander campaign against the women’s corps, he wrote to the commanding generals of all domestic air forces and commands that any lack of respect for the WAC would not be tolerated on a single air base. He explained that, as more men were shipped overseas, it was necessary “to recognize and use the skill and training of women to the maximum extent possible.” This matter, wrote General Arnold in conclusion, “is, in my opinion, one of the key problems to be worked out if the Army Air Forces is to utilize the personnel placed at its disposal in the way which will get our job done, and get it done quickly.”36 This official attitude, which was given wide publicity, helped to reassure relatives of the women and the Wacs themselves that the AAF welcomed them and appreciated


their services. Some Wacs undoubtedly remained unconvinced. WAC officers assigned to AAF Headquarters in Washington were well aware of the cordiality of the Air Forces, for they were allowed to set hp a staff organization which was almost ideal under the circumstances. Colonel Bandel, the Air WAC Officer, found that her recommendations were usually given favorable consideration. One of her innovations, which proved to be highly popular and effective, was her practice of sending an informal monthly mimeographed letter to all staff directors, explaining the reasons underlying the actions taken at AAF Headquarters.37 Even non-AAF WAC staff directors overseas asked to be put on the mailing list, while non-AAF company commanders corresponded regularly with AAF WAC squadron commanders to obtain information on War Department regulations and circulars, which they seldom saw.

Because each major operating division of AAF Headquarters early accepted a WAC officer, Colonel Bandel's Air WAC Division was able to eliminate operating duties and to confine its work to co-ordination of the WAC program, study of field conditions, and formulation of policy recommendations. This system, which other comparable WAC staff sections were able to adopt only later if at all, enabled the AAF to pioneer in the study of WAC utilization and the formulation of policies to remedy weaknesses in the program.38 One of the contributions of the Air WAC Officer to the more effective use of the corps was her recommendation, approved by the War Department in September 1943, abolishing separate WAC grades. All War Department grade allotments to the major commands were thereafter made without reference to the sex of personnel; except for the limitation upon the number of Wacs that could be furnished any command, either a man or a woman could be placed in any authorized and suitable job. The women were no longer considered an additional allotment, since each station had only one military quota; and the resulting simplification of bookkeeping was a considerable improvement over the cumbersome system of WAC requisitions.39

The AAF, like other commands, had been highly pleased and notably relieved when in the summer of 1943 the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps became the Women's Army Corps.40 This step, placing the corps in the Army instead of with the Army, corrected a fundamental error which had been growing increasingly obvious.41 Under the auxiliary system the Army had little more control over


Waacs than over civilian workers. Like civilians, the women could leave the service any time they wished. Naturally, their use on highly secret and mobile work or overseas assignment was severely hampered. On the other hand, the women were not entitled to military benefits even though they performed military duties. With the conversion to Amy status, approximately 80 per cent of the women serving with the AAF re-enlisted.42 Of those who did not, some failed to pass the physical examination, others had acquired new home responsibilities since their original enlistment, and others (neurotics and troublemakers) were refused re-enlistment by their commanding officers.43


Wacs Assigned to the AAF from July 1943 to July 194~ by Six-Month Intervals

July 1943 Dec. 1934 July 1944 Dec. 1944 July 1945
In continental U.S.:
Officers 545 1,758 1,787 1,579 1,522
Enlisted women 16,094 16,082 26,468 29,931 27,449
Total 16,639 17,840 28,255 31,510 28,971
Officers 184 267 316
Enlisted women 4,034 6,505 6,666
Total 4,218 6,772 6,982
Officers 1,971 1,846 1,838
Enlisted women 30,502 36,436 34,115
Total 32,473 38,282 35,953

NOTE—Peak strengt for total AAF Wacs was in January 1945, with 39,323 officers and enlisted women;- peak strength within the continental United States was in the same month, with 32,0008 officers and enlisted women; peak strength overseas was in April 1945, with 7,601 officers and enlisted women.

The AAF, which had more than 16,000 Waacs in July 1943, still had fewer than 15,000 Wacs in September, although many new units had been assigned to it (see Table 1).44 The gap between WAC assignments to the AAF and Air Forces’ demands for Wacs had now reached wide proportions. In contrast to the I 5,000 on duty, the AAF needed more than 130,000 and had an approved quota of 65,000. A new approach to the problem was clearly in order.

What was hoped to be a solution to the problem was an AAF plan which received War Department approval late in August 1943, calling for AAF recruitment of its own Wacs. Regarded by Colonel Bandel as “the most important and most far-reaching of the steps’’ which the


AAF took in developing the WAC program, the plan enabled the Air Forces to appeal to women directly, promising them job assignments of their choice and assuring them that every effort would be made to assign them to a station of their choice. Similar authority was extended to the Army Ground Forces and Army Service Forces, thus for the first time giving potential Wacs their choice of branch and job category. Although WAC recruitment was still a basic responsibility of the ASF, the other branches merely being allowed to participate in the campaign, the AAF nevertheless entered into the program “with its usual enthusiasm.” Because it had personnel at installations in practically every state in the Union, the Training Command was directed to conduct the campaign for the AAF.45

With the objective of enlisting at least 46,000, the Training Command opened the campaign in October 1943, blanketing the country with recruiting teams and publicizing the program through every available medium. Coining the phrase “Air Wacs,” the AAF incurred the disapproval of the War Department, which feared that the AAF Wacs would be regarded by the public as a “separate corps.” The phrase had gained such widespread use, however, that a War Department directive to the AAF could not halt the trend toward regarding Wacs in the AAF as “Air Wacs.” Recruits were not promised permanent assignment to a specific AAF command, nor were they promised or denied foreign service. For the most part, the AAF was able to make good on its job-category commitments, although there were some glaring exceptions which commanders attempted to correct as the cases were brought to their attention .46

In addition to the Training Command personnel conducting the campaign, several other air commands carried on short recruiting drives of their own, designed to point up the advantages of service with their installations. The Air Transport Command, for example, held out the prospect of eventual assignment to one of its far-flung bases around the world, and within less than a year the ATC increased its WAC strength from 500 to 5,500.

By January 1944 the AAF was recruiting between 2,000 and 2,500 Wacs a month, with this figure remaining constant until the end of the campaign. Although the Training Command stopped its intensive drive in June 1944, Air Wac recruiting, with station and job promises, actually continued until the end of October 1944, when the War Department ended all station and job recruitment of Wacs. After that


time, recruits could be promised only general assignment to the Amy or to the AM. From 15 October 1943 to 31 December 1944, when to all intents and purposes AAF Wac recruiting was completed, 27,047 women had enlisted in the Army for service with the AAF, more than all other branches combined but only slightly more than half the number which was the initial objective. It was an expensive campaign, since more than 1,500 officers and enlisted people devoted their full time to it, while hundreds of others were on part-time recruiting duty -and these were in addition to the several thousand ASF personnel of the recruiting service who were accepting WAC enlistments for assignment to the AAF. Though expensive, the campaign was also educational, for it enabled the men of the AAF to learn more about the WAC program, thus contributing to more effective utilization of Wacs. It likewise familiarized the public with the need for women in uniform and probably contributed to public acceptance of women soldiers.47

The influx of 27,000 recruits did not pose a major training problem for the AAF. There was no need for elaborate technical training because the majority of women, in contrast to the seventeen- and eighteen- year-old boys being inducted, had a usable skill before they enlisted, often in the highly prized clerical field. The AAF proposed and pioneered in a time-saving policy of avoiding unnecessary training for women already qualified. Basic training was still supplied by the WAC, under the Army Service Forces, and the ASF desired to retain basic graduates for another six to twelve weeks of specialist training as clerks, drivers, cooks, and medical technicians. With the inception of “Air-WAC” recruiting, the AAF refused to allow most of its recruits to be so retained and arranged for immediate shipment to air bases for employment in civilian skills or on-the- job training. In particular$ administrative and clerks courses in ASF schools were felt to be of little value in teaching AAF procedures. However, the AAF policy did not prevent specialist training for women who would benefit by it or were highly qualified for it; in fact, the AAF early opened to women virtually its entire roster of job specialties and schools. On 20 November 1943 Wacs were declared eligible to attend any noncombat training course attended by AAF men, provided that the training would in a station commander’s opinion increase an individual’s job efficiency or would enable her to be utilized in some higher skill for which she had unusual aptitude or civilian background.48


The AMF’S preference for avoiding nonessential training extended to continuation training of units on field stations. Until the last year of the war, WAC field units operated under the ASF requirement of four hours’ weekly repetition of basic courses. These usually had to be given at night and constituted a problem of fatigue and boredom for units spending several years at one station, The AAF therefore sought and obtained War Department approval of a plan making it solely responsible for continuation training of its Wacs, as it was for its men. A simplified procedure thereafter allowed commands to limit training to the non-repetitive weekly orientation hour given all personnel, and prescribed sports and recreation rather than the daily physical training period.

The job training of women was so completely integrated with the entire AAF training program that virtually no separate statistics are available as a basis for comparing the record of the women with male trainees. Obviously, this policy meant that the Wacs had to be as well qualified as men to enroll in and graduate from a training course. It is known only that approximately 2,000 women completed courses in AAF technical schools, including those for Link-trainer instructors, airplane mechanics, sheet-metal workers, weather forecasters, weather observers, electrical specialists of several kinds, teletype operators, control-tower specialists, cryptographers, radio mechanics, parachute riggers, bombsight-maintenance specialists, clerks, photo-laboratory technicians, and photo-interpreters.49

The AAF showed no reluctance in opening up its noncombat jobs to women, even jobs which required “unwomanly” mechanical skills. Toward the end of the war there was an increase in the number of women on technical assignments, when it became difficult to obtain enlisted men in the top intelligence brackets required by some of the work. At the peak of WAC enrollment, in January 1945, more than 200 different job categories were filled by enlisted women, while WAC officers held more than 60 different types of jobs in addition to that of company officer. A flexible system of assignment enabled the AAF to use Wacs with special skills found in only a very few women, like those who were skilled as chemists, cartographers, geodetic computers, topographers, sanitary inspectors, and even dog-trainers.50 But as might be expected, a high percentage—about 50 percent—of the Air Wacs held administrative or office jobs. These clerks, typists, and stenographers were doing only what they had been doing in civilian


life, with the exception that they had to know AAF procedures, organization, and nomenclature. At the Air Technical Service Command, WAC clerks kept stock records of the thousands of pieces of technical equipment. The Training Command, employing more Wacs than any other AAF unit, found them especially adept at keeping the records of training courses, trainees, and flight hours (see Table 2). In the four domestic air forces, Wacs kept personnel and flight records and staffed the assembly lines through which crews and equipment passed for overseas assignment. Wacs in the Air Transport Command were used in dispatching offices, at information desks, and in process duty at aerial


Distribution of WAC Personnel among Air Commands in the United States, January 1945

Training Command 8,094
First Air Force 1,920
Second Air Force 3,528
Third Air Force 3,097
Fourth Air Force 2,140
I Troop Carrier Command 1,046
Material Command (ATSC) 3,887
Air Transport Command 3,095
AAF Center (School of Applied Tactics) 857
Personnel Distribution Command 1,572
Other 1,962
Total 32,008

Distribution of WAC Personnel among Air Commands in the United States, January 1945 ports of embarkation. One Wac on the latter type of duty, when asked whether she liked her job, replied, “Like it? I’ve checked in Lord Louis Mountbatten, Winston Churchill, and Sir John Dill in one week. Who wouldn’t like it?’’51 The majority of WAC clerical workers, however, never saw Winston Churchill or any other celebrity. They faced one monotonous day after another, each full of routine but necessary paper work, struggling with a typewriter full of pink copies, yellow copies, green copies, and white copies.

Publicity given to the more unusual types of jobs and an over-dramatization of the aviation aspect created the public impression that far more women were employed in flying duty than was actually the case. Relatively few Wacs ever saw the inside of an airplane in the line of duty. Some 20 Wacs were listed as “Air Crew Members” and there was at least one WAC Crew Chief. Women sometimes also made


noncombat flights as radio operators. As an experiment, one entire flght line was staffed with WAC mechanics, and there were eventually some 617 women in Airplane Maintenance, 656 Aviation Specialists, and lesser numbers in related jobs. However, since men in these skills usually could be found, and since the need for women’s clerical skills continued unabated, no significant attempt was made to train women not already qualified in aviation work.52

Negro Wacs in the AAF were employed on the same types of jobs as were other Wacs, although comparatively few Negro women were skilled in clerical and related fields. In accordance with Army policy, the WAC was directed to limit its Negro recruits to 10.6 per cent of its total strength, and the Negroes served in segregated units.53 At the height of the AAF WAC program, ten Negro units were being utilized, representing about 1,100 women. This number was second only to that used by the Army Services Forces.54

The Wac Overseas

The last major development of the AAF’s program for the employment of Wacs began in the spring of 1944, when the AAF adopted a comprehensive plan for assignment of WAC clerical workers to the headquarters of combat air forces around the world. WAC units had been serving with some overseas air forces since the summer of 1943, but prior to March 1944 the system for allocating WAC personnel to overseas theaters did not guarantee that an AAF-trained Wac would be assigned to an air organization.

Under War Department rules, each shipment of Wacs for overseas duty was formed by contributions from the Air, Ground, and Service Forces, according to the proportion of Wacs then serving in each of these. The defect in this plan, according to the Air Forces’ point of view, was that a Wac skilled in AAF procedures might be assigned to an ASF unit overseas, while a Wac trained in ASF practices might be assigned to an AAF unit. After repeated Air Force prodding, the War Department allowed gradual changes in the system, so that by 10 June 1944 Air, Ground, and Service Forces were each authorized to send its own Wacs outside the Zone of the Interior for assignment to a particular command, provided the theater commander concurred.55 Because the AAF was willing at the outset to fill overseas requests at its own expense, the air forces around the world received, for the most part, carefully selected, AAF-trained Wacs in numbers


greater than the War Department had originally planned to furnish them.

Subordinate commands in the AAF were eventually allowed to send Wacs to overseas stations without reference either to the War Department or to AAF‘ Headquarters. The Air Transport Command had been granted this authority in November 1943. The Army Airways Communications System and AAF Weather Wing soon gained similar authority. Not only in decentralization, but also in guidance of its commands, the AAF was leading the way in this phase of the WAC program; in the opinion of the WAC historian, “no other Army command so thoroughly explained to the field the problems and the best means of selecting women for overseas duty."56 The AAF required that Wacs selected for such duty be fully qualified, be recommended by the appropriate WAC squadron commander, and, insofar as possible, be desirous of overseas duty.57 


WAC Personnel with Air Forces Overseas January 1945

European theater 2,835
Mediterranean theater 457
Pacific Ocean Area 2
Far East Air Forces 694
China–Burma–India theater 287
Air Transport Command 2,755
Other (AACS etc.) 285
Total 7,315

Well before this system went into effect, Wacs had been shipped to the Eighth Air Force in England, the first WAC Separate Battalion arriving in July 1943. The satisfactory performance of this unit led to so many requests that by September the Air Force Wacs made up one-half of the total WAC strength in the European Theater of Operations. Requests from other theaters soon poured into AAF Headquarters. From air forces in the China–Burma–India theater, for example, came a request for several hundred Wacs, while the Far East Air Forces asked for more than two thousand. By no means all the requests could be filled, but monthly shipments were begun in April 1944 and continued until January 1945. By that time Wacs were serving with air forces in every major theater of operations (see Table 3).58


With a peak strength of approximately 7,000, the AAF WAC overseas program involved a relatively small group of women. But this number was sufficient to demonstrate—even to the most skeptical, apprehensive, and half-amused airmen—that the Air Wacs could contribute to the effective operation of higher headquarters in many different parts of the world. Before WAC units arrived in the theaters, officers charged with their reception often showed concern over the extra trouble which would be required to house and care for female personnel. Visions of disciplinary, health, and morale problems caused some commanders to hesitate in requesting WAC units. The experience of the Wacs overseas soon showed that most of the fears were groundless.

Housing accommodations proved to be bothersome only in the more isolated areas, such as New Guinea, where they were a problem for all troops. In more than one theater headquarters troops enjoyed accommodations frequently superior to those occupied by troops at home, whether men or women. In July 1945, one year after their arrival in India, Air Wacs were reported to have a beauty parlor on the base and Indian laborers to keep their barracks in order. After the headquarters moved up into China in the summer of 1945, about seventy Wacs were transferred to the new station, where they were housed in a modern three-story apartment building, with enough privacy to satisfy the shyest, most introspective Wac; instead of seventy women in one large room, only two or three were assigned to a room, while the mess hall had small tables, each seating four women, and native labor was available to do the general housekeeping and run the mess.59 In the British Isles, in spite of cold drafty buildings and quaint plumbing facilities, many Wacs had comfortable accommodations in hotels, converted mansions, and schools; in Europe after V-E Day they frequently enjoyed semiprivate rooms, small mess-hall tables with linen and silver, and relief from all fatigue details. In North Africa and New Guinea, women accepted tents and the absence of plumbing facilities in the same spirit as did other troops.60

With regard to health, the Wacs in all theaters, like the Army Nurses, proved to be no special problems despite frequent moves necessitated by combat, despite a variety of weather conditions including rain, snow, fog, cold, heat, mud, and humidity, and deprivation of citrus fruit, milk, and other items of normal diet. In the North African and Mediterranean theaters “the annual noneffective rate for


Wacs was less than the comparable nonbattle noneffective rate for men-about 2.7 per 100 strength for Wacs, and 3.6 for all personnel exclusive of battle injuries,”61 During most of the war the attrition rate for Wacs serving in Europe, India, and China was about the same as that for noncombat men. Only in the Southwest Pacific Area was the medical evacuation rate higher for Wacs than for noncombat men; several surveys concluded that non-medical reasons, such as deficiencies in uniforms and supplies, had a major bearing on the high rate of loss, particularly with regard to malaria, dermatitis, and respiratory disorders. Other contributing factors were command policies such as the undue restriction of Wacs in compounds and a failure to provide healthful recreation.62

In the matter of discipline and courtesy, the overseas Wacs maintained a high standard. With an uncanny ability to scrounge or to create cleaning and pressing facilities, they frequently gained the reputation of being “the most smartly and neatly dressed troops” at their stations. Violations of regulations and offenses of all types were significant by their negligible numbers. In the North African, Mediterranean, and European theaters the number of courts-martial for Wacs was “extremely small.” According to statistics compiled by the Air Provost Marshal, men in the European theater committed offenses from ten to a hundred and fifty times as often as women. “Serious misconduct was lacking, and the advance plans for a group of female military police were never carried out.” Disciplinary records in the Southwest Pacific Area showed that most WAC offenses were minor infractions which could be attributed “chiefly to tension, exhaustion, or loss of respect for authority.”63 In all theaters the Wacs’ standards of conduct and devotion to duty led to a competitive situation, resulting in improved discipline and courtesy among the male personnel. The general rise in morale, which stemmed from the combined use of men and women, led many commanding officers to requisition additional Wacs. In the words of one officer in the European Division of the ATC, “The Wacs were like a tonic. They gave the men competition on the job and a new interest in social life on the base. The Wac Detachment was the finest morale booster that the base ever had.”64 To both the GI who was homesick for the sight of an American girl and to the general who had not seen an efficient secretary in three years, most Wacs were a welcome addition to the overseas air forces, One group, understandably, sometimes accorded the Wacs a chilly


reception-those male soldiers who were assigned to communications, clerical, and administrative jobs which the Wacs were supposed to take over.

A combination of factors led to a generally high level of morale among the overseas Wacs themselves. For one thing, they constituted something of a specialist corps; most of them had been carefully chosen for overseas duty. Naturally, there were defects in the overseas shipment program; but on a statistical average, according to the WAC historian, Wacs in the overseas theaters were “the best educated, the most intelligent, and the most highly skilled of the Corps.”65 Moreover, they were volunteers. Perhaps most important of all, their nearness to combat enabled them to see a direct connection between their jobs and the prosecution of the. war. The Wac who typed a weather report could see the men guided by that report returning from their bombing mission. And in her spare time she assisted overworked nurses, helped wounded soldiers write letters home, and volunteered for other hospital duties which brought the war still closer to her.66

Wherever overseas WAC morale was low, the chief reasons—as in the United States—were usually poor classification and job assignment. For example, an inspection of the WAC unit in the Far East Air Service Command in February 1945 found no complaints about mud, mosquitoes, heat, tents, or anything except jobs. As soon as classification and job assignment were improved, the complaints diminished. In the European theater there was a tendency on the part of commands to request highly qualified personnel to perform routine tasks. The resulting low morale among Wacs was pronounced; since they had volunteered for certain types of jobs, they felt that their qualifications should be used. When placed in positions which did not keep them fully occupied, they were often highly critical of “Army needs.” This complaint, however, was heard only in the early months of Wac assignments to the ETO; as operations were stepped up and male personnel were shifted to combat jobs, the Wacs, being more stationary, came to be depended upon more and more because of their experience on the job and seniority in sections.

Other assignment problems arose from the time lag between placing of requisitions by overseas air forces and arrival of Wacs from the United States. The Eighth Air Force, for example, in October 1943 requested a large number of technical and mechanical specialists who


were greatly needed at the time. To fill some of the specialties in the requisition, such as teletypewriter operator and cryptographic technician, certain Wacs were specially trained in the Zone of the Interior. But when the first shipment arrived eight months later, many of the positions had already been filled or the need for them had been altered by the changing operational conditions. The European Division of the ATC was able to absorb some of the specialists, such as airplane-engine mechanics, radio mechanics, airplane electrical mechanics, and parachute riggers and repairmen. Most of these Wacs, however, could not be placed on jobs for which they had been trained. “Many of them griped,” reported the ATC historian; “many of them wished they had stayed in the States; most of them were glad to go to work and do their best".67

Not all cases of poor classification and job assignment could be attributed to changing operational conditions. Sometimes personnel were misclassified in the Zone of the Interior in order to fill overseas requisitions, and air forces which requested stenographers occasionally received teletype operators or clerk-typists. In other cases, poor job placement could be attributed to commanders’ lack of knowledge regarding the expansion of the WAC program and the variety of jobs for which Wacs were qualified. In the European theater more difficulty was experienced in finding suitable assignments for officers than for enlisted women; the personnel officer of the WAC section frequently had to use a good deal of persuasion “to convince certain male officers that a WAC officer’s education, experience, civilian and military training could be used to replace a male officer or in lieu of a male officer.” This reluctance, as well as the problem of misclassification, was to a large extent overcome with the passage of time.68

WAC officers overseas, besides serving as detachment commanders and company officers, also served on such assignments as photo-interpreting, intelligence, operations, fiscal, code and cipher, and inspector general. Enlisted women were assigned to any one of fifty-six different duties. But by far the majority of both officers and enlisted women served as secretaries, clerks, and administrative personnel.69 Because of the lack of civilian employees overseas, the Wacs’ clerical skills were all the more needed. An estimated 90 percent of Wacs in the overseas air forces were used in such positions, as compared with approximately 50 percent of the Wacs in the domestic air commands. Overseas employment of the Air Wacs thus lacked the variety experienced by


Wacs in the Zone of the Interior. When Colonel Bandel was touring the ETO in the winter of 1943–44, she found that Wacs working in clerical positions at air bases were fascinated to hear about the jobs, like control-tower operator and Link-trainer instructor, that Wacs in the United States were beginning to do.70

Wacs in the ATC European Division reported that “doing a secretarial job overseas is essentially the same as doing it any other place. You take down notes; then you transcribe them and type the letters. As a sideline you learn a thousand-and-one details about the particular type of work being done in your section—Operations, Traffic, Supply and Service, Personnel, etc.” For a feeling of satisfaction on the job, however, these same Wacs admitted that overseas service was far better than that in the States, despite certain inconveniences and dangers.71 Wacs in the Far East Air Forces, sometimes with only a tent for an office, managed to type clean, accurate copy while picking strange insects out of the typewriter and sweltering in the steaming jungles of New Guinea.

Buzz-bomb attacks in the ETO and bombing and sniper attacks in the Pacific constituted ever present dangers. Nowhere were Wacs unnecessarily exposed to danger, but the possibility of enemy capture prevented some commanders in forward positions from using WAC personnel. Under the international Rules of Land Warfare, Wacs were not considered protected personnel, and the enlisted women would not be entitled to officer privileges in the event of capture. Commanding officers who did use Wacs close behind the retreating enemy did not minimize the necessity for safety and security measures.72 Such commanders clearly explained the situation to the Wacs and warned them of the dangers and discomforts they might expect as they moved forward. General Kenney, for example, who had about two hundred Wacs in his Far East Air Forces headquarters upon its formation in June 1944, talked frankly to the Wacs prior to their moving up to New Guinea. He warned them that his headquarters “would be subject to bombing, it would be the roughest of living conditions, they would probably stand in line in mud up to their ankles in the mess line, the atabrine line, and to get to the shower.” The Wacs, thus forewarned, were then flown to Hollandia; they continued to advance with the headquarters, reaching Leyte in the Philippines on 29 November 1944.73 By the end of April 1945, when General Kenney’s entire headquarters had been flown to Fort McKinley, Manila,


his WAC contingent numbered 450, as compared with 250 officers and 500 enlisted men.74 The Far East Air Service Command, as of June 1945, was using 574 Wacs, who, together with the FEAF Wacs, made up approximately 17 percent of the total WAC strength in the Southwest Pacific Area.75

Though a subject of some debate in the War Department, commanders in the Southwest Pacific felt that the advantage of having WAC clerical skills in these successive forward areas outweighed the disadvantage of having to guard their camps and insure their constant protection. In the opinion of many observers, however, theater policies restricting the women to locked compounds in most stations in New Guinea were not only unnecessary but were also unwise. At least in the opinion of the Wacs, the restrictions on their freedom of movement proved to be more of a hardship than “wearing trousers and heavy boots as protection against mud or mosquitoes.” Circumstances were somewhat altered as soon as cities like Manila were occupied and headquarters could be set up in permanent buildings.76

By January 1945, WAC demobilization planning was begun and nearly all AAF WAC recruiting stopped. By V-E Day the total strength was starting to drop, and Air Wacs were beginning to return from overseas. By V-J Day the Air WAC overseas strength was 1,500 less and the domestic strength 5,000 less than it had been in the peak month of January. During the spring and early summer of 1945, however, Wacs figured in preparations for the Army of Occupation in Europe and for the new US. Army Strategic Air Forces then being organized to bring the full weight of the air arm against Japan. An ETO request for Wacs in the Army of Occupation received War Department approval on 12 March, with the Air Forces being directed to supply 1,500 of the required number. Almost 400 women, comprising the first increment of the 1,500, were shipped out in April, and almost 600 more were sent to Europe by midsummer, when the program was halted because of diminishing personnel needs overseas. The new USASTAF, in the meantime, had asked for Wac personnel immediately after its formation, and on 1 August 1945 the AAF was authorized by the War Department to assign Wacs to USASTAF and to send them wherever they were needed, with theater concurrence. Only a few women had been shipped out under this authorization when the, war ended, and the whole program for overseas shipment of Wacs came to an abrupt halt.77


As the war neared its close, significant evidence of WAC loyalty to the Army was provided by a study made in the ETO.78 When queried approximately six months prior to V-E Day, members of the Corps revealed the following inclinations: 

Officers 90% Enlisted women 65%
Would have remained in civilian life:
Officers 3% Enlisted women 17%
Would join another women's service:
Officers 2% Enlisted women 3%
No opinion
Officers 5% Enlisted women 15%
Might be interested in another term of service if the WAC continued after the present emergency:
Officers 67% Enlisted women 37%
Would be interested in a reserve status
Officers 69% Enlisted women 30%
Prefer a foreign to a continental U.S. assignment:
Officers 85% Enlisted women 63%

The interest shown in a reserve status and another term of service had a direct bearing on planning for the postwar use of women in the service.

On 29 March 1944 the first of a series of papers had been prepared at AAF Headquarters on the possible use of Wacs in the postwar air force.79 If there was any doubt in the public mind by the end of the war as to the official Air Force attitude toward the Wacs, it should have been removed by General Arnold’s final report to the Secretary of War, At the end of his report he made a series of recommendations on the military air policies he believed that the nation should adopt. With regard to women in uniform, the wartime experience, he pointed out, proved that “these women in the jobs they were qualified to perform were more efficient than men.” Since another war might require complete mobilization of all Americans, General Arnold concluded that “a nucleus organization of female soldiers should be maintained in peacetime in order to provide for rapid and efficient expansion in time of national emergency.”80


Women Airforce Service Pilots

Another innovation in the AAF during World War II, likewise experimental but far more controversial and involving considerably fewer women than the WAC, was the use of women pilots for ferrying and other domestic flying duties. In this case, the AAJ? was more reluctant to undertake the experiment; but, again, the manpower shortage and the experience of England pointed to the use of women. In mid-1941 there were 2,733 women licensed as pilots in the United States, with 154 holding commercial licenses. Many of these women wished to serve as auxiliaries or reservists in the nation’s air defense. Prior to the war, however, and for a short time after Pearl Harbor, the Air Corps took a sternly masculine attitude toward the subject. As early as 1930 the War Department had queried the Air Corps on the possible use of women pilots in the Army, and the Office of the Chief of the Air Corps replied that it was “utterly unfeasible” to take them into the military service, remarking that women were “too high strung for wartime flying.’’81

Ten years later General Arnold, Chief of the Air Corps, turned down a proposal by Plans Division to use approximately one hundred women as co-pilots in transport squadrons and in ferrying singleengine aircraft. In August 1941 he again disapproved of a project to use women in aircraft-ferrying duties, stating that “the use of women pilots serves no military purpose in a country which has adequate manpower at this time.’’ From sources outside the Air Corps came various proposals, one of which eventually was put into effect. In September 1939 the prominent American aviatrix, Jacqueline Cochran, had written to Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt regarding the need for planning to use women fliers in a national emergency. “In the field of aviation,” she wrote, “the real ‘bottle neck‘ in the long run is likely to be trained pilots.” Male pilots could be released for combat duty by assigning women to “all sorts of helpful back of the lines work” such as flying commercial, transport, courier, and ambulance planes. Such a plan, Miss Cochran warned, “requires organization and not at the time of emergency but in advance.” Three years after writing this letter, Miss Cochran found herself at the head of just such a program, not in advance of an emergency but in the middle of it.82

Miss Cochran’s plan looked forward to employment of women pilots on a scale that made an ambitious training program a central


feature of the project. A different and more modest proposal was advanced by Mrs. Nancy Harkness Love, another prominent aviatrix, who was employed in non-flying duties by the Air Corps Ferrying Command. Mrs. Love’s plan, which gained the support of the Ferrying Command and later the ATC, called for a small group of highly qualified women fliers, who would require little additional training, to help fill the command’s growing need for ferry pilots. As it happened, in the confused rush to meet pilot shortages, both plans were put into effect almost simultaneously, General Arnold having conferred with Miss Cochran in the late spring of 1942. In September 1942 the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) was activated at New Castle, Delaware, under the command of Mrs. Love, while the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, under the direction of Miss Cochran, was established in the Flying Training Command.83

Two factors, present at the outset, were destined to cause difficulty in the Air Forces’ use of women pilots. One was the fact that the women were civilians employed in military and semimilitary tasks. The other was the existence, side by side, of two different concepts regarding the women’s pilot program. On the one hand was the idea of a restricted, elite group of well-trained fliers who could make their contribution to the ferrying program almost immediately. Opposed to this idea was the concept of a fairly large number of women pilots who would require an extensive training program and who would then be assigned to a variety of flying duties in order to release men for combat. General Arnold, when confronted with the problem, called a meeting of ATC officials and Miss Cochran and told them that he “would not have two women’s pilot organizations in the AAF -that they had to get together.” It was a bigger proposition than flying for ATC.84 The Cochran concept eventually won priority, but command problems continued to hamper the program, for the Ferrying Division of ATC, the chief using agency, needed to have complete control of the pilots assigned to it, whereas Miss Cochran felt that she needed to have complete control of all women pilots in order to carry out the experiment effectively. On 5 August 1943 the WAFS and women pilot trainees were merged into one organization, Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), with Miss Cochran becoming Director of Women Pilots.85 Mrs. Love was made WASP executive with the Ferrying Division of the ATC.

Before the merger was completed, four squadrons of WAFS demonstrated


that they were capable of handling much heavier and more difficult types of planes than had been originally expected. At the same time, directives from AAF Headquarters to the Flying Training Command indicated a progressive broadening of the training program for women pilots, In November 1942 General Arnold directed the command to augment such training “to the maximum possible extent.” The Air Forces’ objective, he wrote, was “to provide at the earliest possible date a sufficient number of women pilots to replace men in every noncombatant flying duty in which it is feasible.” Training was now to be provided for women with no previous flying experience as well as for those who were already licensed pilots. Within a few days General Arnold, writing to the Chief of the Air Staff, gave added emphasis to the necessity for using women “in every possible position throughout the Air Forces."86

The AAF was unable, however, to use more than a fraction of the number of women who wanted to serve in the WASP; for the WASP, unlike the WAC, never suffered from a dearth of applicants. In all, some 25,000 women applied for admission to the WASP training program; of the 1,830 who were admitted, 1,074 completed the course and were assigned to operational duty. The flood of applications can be explained, at least in part, by the overglamorization resulting from newspaper and magazine stories on the program. Air Force officials attempted, without much success, to tone down the public enthusiasm, at least until the experiment had proved successful. Even routine flights—ordinary, uneventful affairs—often received headline treatment, whereas such flights involving male pilots never aroused public interest. Not only thousands of American women but several hundred Canadian women and some from England and Brazil sought admission. One Canadian woman wrote:

Because we are fighting on the same side in this war rather than against each other, and because one more flier (be he Canuck or Yank).means one less German, I would like to ask you on bended knee if there will be any chance of accepting me at Sweetwater if I were to go ahead and complete my necessary hours.

P.S.—I am physically fit; have a college degree; can sing the Star Spangled Banner; have never been a nazi spy; and would gladly take out U.S. papers if only it were possible.

All such applications, which could not meet the citizenship requirement, were automatically rejected.87

The Director of Women Pilots, in her final report, said: “The


selection was entirely a matter of choosing clean-cut, stable-appearing young girls, of proper age, educational background, and height, who could show the required number of flying hours properly noted and certified in a log book.” Except for the original group of WAFS, recruitment was handled directly by Miss Cochran’s office. Included in the first set of requirements for WASP trainees were American citizenship, high-school education or its equivalent, twenty-one to thirty-five years of age, 200 hours flying time, minimum height of 60 inches, medical examination by an Army flight surgeon, and a personal interview with an authorized recruiting officer. When it appeared from early experience that younger women were more successful in training than older ones, the minimum age for admission was reduced to eighteen and a half; most of the WASPs were under twenty-seven. Experience also proved that it was desirable to admit only those women who were at least 64 inches tall.88

Training of the women pilots began in November 1942 in a contract school at Howard Hughes Airport in Houston, Texas. When facilities here proved to be inadequate, the training was gradually shifted to Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas. The first program of instruction, consisting of 135 hours of flying training and 180 hours of ground school, provided for a four-month course designed to qualify the pilots “to ferry training type Army Aircraft.” Successive modifications in the curriculum were dictated by a declining experience level of the applicants, dissatisfaction with the training program, criticism of the proficiency of the graduates, and plans to use the women on duties other than ferrying. Except for the fact that the women were not training for combat, their course of instruction was essentially the same as that for aviation cadets. The WASPs thus received no gunnery training and very little formation flying and acrobatics, but they went through the usual stalls, loops, spins, lazyeights, snap rolls, pylon-eights, and chandelles, and they had to be able to recover from any position.89 The percentage of trainees who “washed out” compared favorably with the elimination rates for male cadets in the Central Flying Training Command. The average elimination rates for WASPs in 1943 was 26 percent and in 1944 was 47 percent; cadet elimination rates for the same years varied from slightly less than 25 percent to over 55 percent.90

Although ferrying was the first and principal duty of WASPs, their usefulness was increased when decisions were made in the fall


of 1943 to assign women pilots to the Training Command for operational duties and to initiate special training projects. The latter program included the following:

Number entering Number graduated
Transition, C-60 16 6
Transition, B-17 17 13
Transition, B-25 20 19
Transition, B-26 57 39
Co-pilot, B-26 24 Discontinued
Advanced instrument 246 232
School of Applied Tactics 460 460

Upon completion of primary training each woman pilot was given the opportunity to indicate her preference as to the type of plane she wished to fly, the location desired as a base, and the members of her class with whom she preferred to be based. In most cases the women indicated that the type of plane was the factor of greatest importance to them. Rating sheets were prepared from daily records on all trainees by flight line, ground school, Link department, physical training department, student officers, and staff advisers. On the basis of these rating sheets and the number of disciplinary demerits, the over-all rating of each graduate was determined. Those trainees with the best over-all ratings were then given their preferences on assignments which came in from the Central Flying Training Command, provided they could fly the type of plane required by the assignment.

Most of the ferrying assignments involved light aircraft, but when the WASP program came to an end on 20 December 1944, women pilots had ferried 77 types of aircraft, including the P-38 and F-5, P-39, P-40, P-63, C-54, C-46, and B-24. The women encountered the same flying conditions and problems as were faced by male pilots, sometimes guarding their own planes at understaffed airfields, sometimes having to improvise refueling facilities, and frequently flying open-cockpit planes in subzero weather. After April 1944. the accident rate rose when pursuit-plane ferrying became the main WASP activity; the higher rate cannot be attributed to any lack of ability, for male pilots had a similar record. For example, in the continental air forces in 1944 the accident rate for single-engine pursuit planes was 1.34 per 1,000 trips flown; for heavy bombers the rate was 0.29.

In spite of their concentration on a more hazardous type of ferrying than that done by male pilots in the division, the WASPs did not complain. The evidence is emphatic, according to the ATC historian,


“that women pilots took their turns at making deliveries in entire equality with the men, that they lost no more, if not fewer, days per month from flying status for physiological reasons than did the men.’’ General Arnold stated that it was common for commanding officers to prefer WASPs over male ferry pilots because the woman pilot ordinarily reached her destination a day or two ahead of the time required by a male pilot. The reason: “she didn’t carry an address book with her.’’ By specializing in the delivery of aircraft types which did not fit into the pilot transition program, the WASPs during the latter months of their program greatly facilitated the advancement of male pilots from Class I to Class V and thence to overseas duty. And when the WASP went out of existence in December 1944, the women ferry pilots within 27 months had completed 12,650 movements over a distance of approximately 9,224,000 miles—“a record of useful achievement and of solid contribution to the prosecution of the war.’’91

Although the ferrying was done almost entirely by daylight, substantially all the other operational duties were performed by day and night. WASPs were used in tracking and searchlight missions, simulated bombing, smoke-laying and other chemical missions, radio control work, instrument instruction, and administrative and utility flying. In addition, a few exceptionally qualified women were allowed to test rocket-propelled planes, to pilot jet-propelled planes, and to work with radar-controlled targets. On some of these assignments the WASPs encountered difficulties, in a few cases sufficient to discontinue their use in such work. As an experiment some of the women were assigned in the summer of 1943 to target-towing jobs in support of antiaircraft and aerial gunnery training. The test was not carried out under ideal circumstances and was theref ore not conclusive; some of the pilots lacked proper training for the work, and certain male personnel connected with the mission tended to protect the women from risk and responsibility. In general, however, the women pilots were considered capable of tow-target work; according to the chief of the Tow Target Section of the Fourth Air Force, they were better adapted to the activity than most pilots returned from combat. In glider-towing duties the WASPs were not successful primarily because operation of the C-60 proved to be physically too strenuous. In 1944 the Eastern and Western Flying Training Commands were asked to undertake an experiment in the use of women pilots as instructors


in basic-flying schools for aviation cadets. The almost unanimous opinion of commanding officers, supervisors, and the WASPs themselves was that women should not serve as basic-flying instructors because of the possible morale effect on aviation cadets. WASPs did serve successfully, however, as instrument instructors in the Eastern Flying Training Command.92

Much of the difficulty encountered by the WASPs on their various assignments stemmed from the hostility of the male pilots with whom they worked. It was undoubtedly galling to some airmen to see a woman flying a plane which they were not yet qualified to handle. Many officers were skeptical of the women’s abilities as well as their sincerity of purpose. But the WASPs had a way of converting NBs (non-believers). As their total of hours and miles flown mounted, doubts about their capabilities and apprehensions based on supposed physical or temperamental weaknesses were either removed or substantially lessened. The Air Surgeon concluded: “It is no longer a matter of speculation that graduate WASPs were adapted physically, mentally, and psychologically to the type of flying assigned. My Surgeons have stated that they stood up well to their job; that the male personnel lost more time due to being grounded.”

The resentment and hostility of many officers eventually turned into admiration. “When these girls first came here,” said one officer in the 3d Tow-Target Squadron at Camp Davis, “I said I’d be damned if I’d let one of ’em taxi me down the runway. I wanted to hang on to this skin of mine a little longer. Then one day I had to give onc of the WASPs a check-out flight from here to Charlotte. And now I take it back, every word I said, She was even better than some of my own boys.” Of the original fifty WASPs at Camp Davis, fifteen were sent to Camp Stewart, Georgia, to fly special assignments involving much exacting instrument work. One of the Air Force officers working with the women confessed: “Two of the girls are as good as I am at this particular job, and hell, I think I’m the best in the Army.”93

The WASPs were not playgirls. Although under Civil Service, WASP trainees were subject to the same discipline as cadets. The white-glove test was applied in their barracks inspection, and they were allowed only seventy gigs. They faced the same hazards as male pilots, yet had none of the benefits of military status. A total of 37 WASPs lost their lives in aircraft accidents, while 7 suffered major


injuries and 29 suffered minor injuries. Reporting to General Arnold on I August 1944, Miss Cochran noted that WASPs were “doing the work of an officer freed to serve elsewhere,” yet they did not even have “the right to a military funeral.” Their civilian status led, on the other hand, to certain administrative problems; there was nothing, for example, to prevent a woman from resigning after having received training at government expense.

As the WASP neared its end, Miss Cochran pointed out that “without militarization there were some inherent organizational weaknesses which might have been very serious to the program except for the loyalty and good sense of the individual WASPs.” At the beginning of the program, however, she had considered it unwise to militarize until at least 125 women were trained and assigned to various flying duties. By the time the AAF asked Congress for militarization of the WASP, conditions had so changed that not only was the request denied but the whole program was brought to an abrupt end.94

On 30 September 1943 the first of the WASP militarization bills was introduced in the House of Representatives. Both Miss Cochran and General Arnold desired a separate corps headed by a woman colonel similar to the WAC, WAVES, SPAR, and Marine heads. But the War Department consistently opposed such a move, since there was no separate corps for male pilots as distinguished from nonrated AAF officers; instead, it preferred that they be commissioned in the WAC and thus added to some 2,000 “Air WAC” officers already assigned, for whom flying duty was then legally permissible.95 While the matter was under congressional consideration, the CAA War Training Service program was ended (15 January 1944) ; moreover, an announcement was made that the AAF college training programs would be terminated on 30 June and that soon thereafter a number of civilian-contract flying schools would be released. The prospective grounding of so many civilian students and instructor pilots led to a flood of indignant letters to congressmen in protest against the militarization and training of women pilots when men pilots were being put into the “walking Army.” Male civilian tempers were further inflamed by news that the AAF had begun giving officer training to WASPs at the School of Applied Tactics. Though widely misunderstood, the step had been taken not only in anticipation of the WASPs’ militarization but also in the belief that the WASPs would benefit in the performance of their duties from a study of military procedures.


The House Committee on the Civil Service (Ramspeck Committee) then undertook an inquiry into the criticisms made of the WASP program. Its report on 5 June 1944 claimed that the WASP was unnecessary and unjustifiably expensive and recommended that the recruiting and training of inexperienced women pilots be halted.

In addition, rapid changes in the military situation adversely affected the WASP program. The favorable progress of the war, along with a lower attrition rate than had been expected, indicated that there would soon be a surplus of male pilots. Under the circumstances the proposal for militarization, as well as the WASP program itself, was doomed. On 20 December 1944, with graduation of the final class of trainees at Sweetwater, the WASP was deactivated.96

At the conclusion of the WASP program there were 916 women pilots on duty with the AAF, assigned as follows:

Headquarters AAF 1
Training Command 620
Air Transport Command 141
First Air Force 16
Second Air Force 80
Fourth Air Force 37
Weather Wing 11
Proving Ground Command 6
Air Technical Command 3
Troop Carrier Command 1

The WASPs had flown approximately 60 million miles on operational duties, with an average for each pilot of 33 hours a month. Through no fault of theirs, by the time the women pilots were ready to make their chief contribution to the war effort, their services were no longer vitally needed. As an experiment to determine the capabilities of women pilots, the program was impeded by the limited opportunities for adequate testing, since wartime pressures gave top priority to operational missions of the various commands. The results of the experiment, therefore, cannot be considered conclusive. But at least the program demonstrated that women are capable of carrying out a variety of flying and aviation administrative duties.97 It was also demonstrated that some American women were willing to risk their lives in wartime flying assignments even though they and their families were being discriminated against in the matter of compensation and benefits.


Army Nurse Corps

Other women in uniform entitled to wear the regulation AAF shoulder patch in World War II were members of the Army Nurse Corps assigned to the AAF. By 1944 more than 6,500 nurses were so assigned, 6,000 of them on duty at AAF station hospitals. The remaining 500 were flight nurses serving in the air evacuation of the wounded. In contrast with the WAC and WASP, the Army Nurse Corps was well established as an essential organization in time of peace as well as of war. Since nursing was one of the traditional fields of employment for women, the Army nurses did not suffer the ridicule and abuse of women who were pioneering in new occupations, many of which had been exclusively male prior to the war.98

On the other hand, flight nurses with the AAF did pioneer in new uses for their skills and at the same time contributed to the relatively low mortality rate of wounded American soldiers in World War II. Air evacuation was a logical development of the air age, obviating the transportation of trainloads of supplies and hundreds of doctors and nurses to the front. Hospitals could thus be established hundreds of miles behind the lines, their remoteness to the front lines aiding the recovery of the wounded. In areas where air-evacuation units operated, the flight nurses boosted the morale of soldiers by their very presence, while the prospect of prompt relief from suffering and of quick treatment in case of emergency further aided front-line morale. Air-evacuation duty, always tense with drama and excitement, seemed to be the perfect answer for those women who “didn’t join the Army Nurse Corps to take care of people with measles.”99

All nurses assigned to the AAF were sent to a training center for four weeks before being sent to AAF station hospitals in the United States. After six months’ duty, they became eligible to make application for flight-nurse training. Applicants had to be recommended by the senior flight surgeon of their command as being particularly adapted for the service, and they were required to pass the same physical examinations as all other flying personnel.

Nurses meeting these requirements were sent to the School of Air Evacuation, Bowman Field, Kentucky. So strenuous was the eight-week course of training here that, remarked one observer, each nurse “should have received a medal” simply for completing the course. There were the usual movies, lectures by personnel who had returned


from active duty, and routine subjects such as military courtesy, record-keeping, and care of equipment and clothing. The more rigorous phase of the training took place on outdoor maneuvers. After learning how to load and unload a plane, the nurses had parachute drill, gas-mask drill, and practice in crash procedure. They underwent simulated bombing and strafing attacks, as well as wormed their way along the ground under a barrage of live machine-gun bullets. The nurses learned survival procedures under all climatic conditions, and they practiced swimming and rescue work fully clad.

The first class of flight nurses graduated at Bowman Field on 18 February 1943. By the end of that year flight-nurse units were operating in every theater where units of the AAF were assigned. In the Sicilian and Italian campaigns flight nurses arrived as soon as transport planes could be sent to the front. In the Tarawa–Makin campaign, flight nurses helped evacuate the wounded within three days after the first troops landed. Their work at the several fronts carried them right into the danger zone—probably farther than American women had ever gone before—within machine-gun range of the enemy.100 The risk seemed fully justified, however, in view of the greatly reduced death rate among the wounded. Flight-nurse duty was hazardous, exacting, and strenuous, but it was also rewarding. It was entirely voluntary, and those women who served in air-evacuation units had the satisfaction of knowing that they were helping to save lives and at the same time participating in an exciting new development in wartime medical practices.

A smaller group of women with a special skill served as dietitians at the various air bases, The Medical Department of the Army for many years had employed civilian women as dietitians, giving them a postgraduate course at Walter Reed General Hospital after 1922. The course was open to women between the ages of twenty and forty if they held a Bachelor’s degree with a major in food and nutrition or in institutional management. Later the requirements were altered in order to admit more women. After June 1944 the dietitians were commissioned as second lieutenants upon completion of their twelvemonth course. Those who were assigned to army air bases were well aware of the relationship between proper diet and air performance. In planning meals, the Air Force dietitian knew that a balanced vitamin intake would aid the aerial gunner and bombardier in himng their targets, while yellow vegetables would help the pilots’


eyes adjust to night flying. Besides planning meals and supervising those who prepared and served the meals, the dietitian also kept records of food costs and was responsible for ordering equipment and supplies, And at bases which were operated on three shifts, she could be assigned to duty any hours of the day,or night.101

As Civilians

For those women who either could not or did hot wish to serve in uniform, there was ample opportunity to aid in the war effort as civilian employees of the AAF. In addition to the greatly needed clerical and administrative skills, civilian women also contributed technical and industrial skills. As early as January 1942 plans were made at AAF Headquarters to employ women in jobs of the latter type, but several months elapsed before opposition, particularly among shopmen, was sufficiently overcome so that the women could be hired in any sizable quantity. By September 1942, when the AAF had 58,125 female employees, it was apparent that the women were “either a necessary evil or a godsend.” By June 1943 the number had risen to 151,016, and from that time until the end of the war women comprised about 45 per cent of the total civilian strength.102

Depots of the Air Service Command, in particular, depended on newly recruited women for a variety of jobs, many of them dirty, many of them monotonous, but all of them important. Wearing mechanics’ overalls and safety turbans, the women checked equipment and cleaned planes; they repaired propeller blades, cleaned spark plugs, and patched up old pans. They camouflaged planes for ocean, arctic, desert, or jungle flying, took care of fur-lined flying suits (which required summer storage), repainted radium dials, riveted, and welded. And while the women were doing these jobs, the AAF was finding it necessary to institute changes in some of its personnel practices. To facilitate the employment of mothers with young children, personnel officers at AAF field installations helped establish child-care services. And the presence of women employees influenced the establishment of nursing service and improved lighting, ventilation, and hygienic facilities.103

Women who could not serve full time, either in uniform or as civilians, assisted the nation’s air arm in a number of part-time volunteer capacities. Many of them worked in the Aircraft Warning Service, as ground observers or in the information and filter centers.


The Civil Air Patrol, which after 29 April 1943 was under the supervision of the AAF, accepted women volunteers on an equal basis with men. Those with a pilot’s license performed all missions except coastal patrol; those not licensed to fly, but still interested in aviation, served as control-tower operator, mechanic, ground-school instructor, radio operator, photographer, first-aid assistant, or airport supervisor. Although women comprised only 10 per cent of the CAP strength, the publicity given to their activities led to the erroneous impression that many more women were participating in the program. Leading magazines carried full-page color ads for such products as cigarettes and refrigerators, featuring women CAP pilots. Some of the men at certain bases resented the fact that they served “anonymously” while the women got all the publicity. It was the policy of the CAP “to play down the female angle” within the 10 per cenr proportion of its membership; but, as in the case of the WASPs, advertisers and newspapers continued to spotlight the women’s activities. 104

Other volunteer work, of a somewhat different type, was carried on by women members of AAF families throughout the country. Organized into local AAF women’s clubs, they engaged in a wide variety of welfare projects for AAF personnel at almost every air base and in many communities. They assisted in such projects as bond sales, kindergartens, clothing and toy exchanges, lectures, study clubs, U.S.O. activities, mending service, athletic clubs, garden clubs, flower committees, lending libraries, club canteens, and information desks. By 1944, membership in the local organizations totaled 25,000 women; and after 8 February 1944 their work was co-ordinated by the newly formed National Association of Air Forces Women.105

One final group, not employed by the AAF, but nevertheless contributing directly to its functioning, was the host of women in the aircraft industry who helped turn out bombers, pursuit planes, transports, and training planes for the AAF. By the late fall of 1943, there were 478,000 women in the aircraft industry, making up 36.5 percent of the production force, as compared with a fraction of 1 per cent in 1940. At one parachute company, women made up 85 percent of the total employees in 1944. No doubt many of these women felt a closer relationship with the nation’s air effort than did many women in uniform whose assignments seemed only remotely connected with the war.106



Whether in uniform or as civilians, whether employed by the AAF or volunteering their efforts, women served in a variety of capacities, all of which were necessary to the proper functioning of the Army Air Forces. The total number of uniformed women was small, both in proportion to the number needed and in proportion to the men in the AAF. But it was sufficiently large to demonstrate the effectiveness, the wide range, and the virtually indispensable character of women's skills during wartime. And it was sufficiently small to indicate that, in any future war demanding an all-out effort, the United States probably would be forced to draft its women. Not even the glamour of aviation could overcome the indifference or reluctance to enlist of the majority of eligible women. But those who did participate in the air effort helped to open up the field of military aviation to women, a step which was part of a larger pattern in the emancipation of their sex and in the assumption of the full responsibilities of citizenship regardless of sex.


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Transcribed and formatted for HTML by David Newton for the HyperWar Foundation