Women's Army Corps Veterans' Association

History of the Women's Army Corps

 

The Beginning
The Honorable Edith Nourse Rogers, Congresswoman from Massachusetts, introduced the first bill to establish a women's auxiliary in May 1941. On 14 May 1942, Congress approved the creation of a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Two days later, Mrs. Oveta Culp Hobby was appointed the first Director of the WAAC.
Five training centers were opened within a year. The first at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, the second at Daytona Beach, Florida, the third at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, the fourth at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and the fifth at Camp Ruston, Louisiana. As an auxiliary of the Army, the WAAC had no military status, therefore Mrs. Rogers introduced another bill in 1943 to enlist and appoint women in the Army of the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the bill on 1 July 1943 and 90 days later the WAAC was discontinued and in its place was the Women's Army Corps (WAC). Colonel Hobby continued as Director of the WAC.

Overseas in World War II
Six months before women received military status, the first WAAC contingent arrived in Algeria, North Africa. In July 1943, the first WAAC Separate Battalion arrived in England led by Lt. Col. Mary A. Hallaren. Three WAC's joined Vice Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten's Southeast Asia Command in New Delhi, India, in October 1943. A WAC platoon arrived in Caserta, Italy in November and a month later another arrived in Cairo, Egypt. January 1944 marked the arrival of the first WAC's in the Pacific at New Caledonia. In May a large group arrived in Sydney, Australia.

The End of the War
After Victory in Europe (VE) Day in May 1945 and the surrender of the Japanese in August, the remaining WAC training centers at Fort Oglethorpe and Fort Des Moines closed and no further WAC training was conducted. In February 1946, the War Department began a program aimed at retaining women still in service and re-enlisting those who had served during World War II. The Chief of Staff General Dwight D. Eisenhower, announced that he would ask Congress to make the Women's Army Corps a part of the Regular Army and the Organized Reserve Corps. By the end of May 1946, WAC strength had dropped from a wartime high of more than 99,000 to about 21,500 and by the end of May 1948, WAC strength totaled approximately 6,500 women on active duty.

Regular Army Status
On 12 June 1948 President Harry S. Truman signed into law the Women's Armed Services Integration Act that permitted women in the Regular Army and the Organized Reserve Corps. A new training Center at Camp Lee, Virginia was opened in July 1948.

The Korean War
With the beginning of the Korean conflict, women were again needed in greater numbers than in peacetime. In August 1950, many WAC Officers and enlisted reservists returned voluntarily on active duty, but when more were needed the Army involuntarily recalled a number of reservists on active duty. New WAC detachments were established in Japan and Okinawa to support the men fighting in Korea. A WAC unit was not sent to Korea, but in 1952, a number of individual women filled administrative positions in Pusan and Seoul.

Establishment of a new WAC Center at Fort McClellan, Alabama
In 1951, Congress appropriated funds to establish a permanent home for the WACs at Fort McClellan, Alabama, and in September 1954 General Matthew B. Ridgeway, Chief of Staff of the Army dedicated the Center. The Center conducted basic training, clerk-typist, stenography, personnel specialist, leadership, and cadre courses for enlisted personnel and basic and advanced courses for officers. The first commander of the WAC Center was Lt. Col. Eleanore C. Sullivan.

Vietnam
The first WAC officer assigned to Vietnam in March 1962 was Major Anne Marie Doering. Two WAC advisors to the Vietnam Women's Army Forces Corps were next to arrive in January 1965 - Lt. Col. Kathleen I. Wilkes and master Sergeant Betty L. Adams. They were replaced annually. A WAC detachment with an average strength of 90 enlisted women was located at HQ, US Army, Vietnam, Long Binh, approximately 20 miles from Saigon. The detachment remained there from January 1967 until October 1972 when all US troops began to withdraw form Vietnam. Many enlisted women and WAC officers also served at General Westmoreland's headquarters in Saigon throughout this same period.

Women Generals
On 8 November 1967 Congress removed promotion restrictions on women officers, making it possible for women to achieve general officer rank. The first WAC officer to be promoted to Brigadier General Elizabeth P. Hoisington on 11 June 1970, the second was Mildred C. Bailey, and the third was Mary E. Clarke. They were the seventh, eighth, and ninth (and last) Directors of the WAC, respectively.

WAC Expansion Begins
A major expansion of the WAC began in 1972 as a means of helping the Army maintain its required strength after elimination of the draft on 30 June 1973. As a result of a strong recruiting campaign and the opening of all Military Occupational Specialties (MOS) to women except those involving combat duties, the strength of the WAC increased from 12,260 in 1972 to 52,900 in 1978.

Innovations in the WAC after 1972
Women entered the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) beginning in September 1972. By May 1981 approximately 40,000 women were enrolled in college and university ROTC programs. On 1 July 1974 all WAC officers were permanently detailed to other branches of the Army (except the combat arms) and the WAC officers career branch was reduced to zero. Defensive weapons training for enlisted women, warrant officers and women officers became a mandatory course in July 1975. The policy also applied to women in the Reserve and National Guard. In the fall of 1977, women began taking the same basic training course as enlisted men and a year later they began training together in the same units. After four-year trial period, joint training was discontinued in August 1982. The first women cadets entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in July 1976 and women have graduated with every class since June 1980. To fully utilize barracks space world-wide, separate WAC units were phased out in 1973 and 1974. Enlisted women continued to be housed separately to insure privacy in sleeping and bat facilities, but they are jointly administered by on commander and cadre group. The WAC Center and School closed in December 1976. A home for the Women's Army Corps Museum was constructed at Fort McClellan, Alabama in 1977 with funds donated by WAC personnel and their friends. With the closing of Ft McClellan, a new museum will be built at Ft. Lee, Virginia.

Discontinuance of the Women's Army Corps
As a means of assimilating women more closely into the structure of the Army and to eliminate any feeling of separateness from it, the office of the Director, WAC was discontinued on 26 April 1978. The Women's Army Corps as a separate corps of the Army was disestablished on 29 October 1978 by an Act of Congress.