In May 1941, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts proposed the creation of a women’s auxiliary for the United States Army. She wanted to guarantee women an official role (and access to military benefits) in the coming war. Congress finally approved her idea in May 1942 and formed the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Oveta Culp Hobby of Texas was named the first director of the WAAC. The Army gave her the starting rank of colonel on July 5, 1943.
Initially, the Army trained WAACs to take over jobs like typing, stenography, driving, and data analysis so that the soldiers doing those jobs could fight in the war. Most WAAC officers were over 25 years old, college-educated, and working in office or teaching jobs before enlisting. The WAAC welcomed African American enlistees, but segregated white and Black platoons.
As the war grew, so did the WAACs’ roles. WAACs served as air traffic monitors, radio operators, pilots, code breakers, mechanics, electricians, and more. By 1943, General Eisenhower requested WAACs abroad. They were stationed in North Africa, Europe, and the Pacific. That same year the Army fully absorbed the WAAC program. Enlistees were no longer auxiliary members. Instead, they were members of the new Women’s Army Corps (WAC).
The Army began sending WACs home after Victory in Europe Day (V-E Day) on May 8, 1945. However, the WAC program continued after the war. In 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed federal legislation creating a permanent place for women in the Army.
Approximately 150,000 women served as WAACs/WACs during World War II. Six hundred fifty-seven of them received service medals, including the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.
This article appeared in the September 7, 1942 issue of Life magazine. Marie Hansen, a staff photographer at Life and one of the few women employed by the magazine, took all the pictures for this article. Life magazine was the first American magazine to tell stories primarily through images. From the late 1930s through the early 1970s, it was an influential publication that shaped the way Americans’ understood the world around them.