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Thursday, June 15, 2023

June 15, 2023: Women in War: World War II

[June 12th marks the 75th anniversary of the passage of the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, an important step toward a more inclusive America on multiple levels. So this week I’ll AmericanStudy that Act and other histories of women in war, leading up to a Guest Post from one of the best scholars of those histories and issues!]

On three groundbreaking organizations that together helped turn the tide of history.

1)      The Women’s Army Corps (WAC): Without question the more than 150,000 women who served in the Women’s Army Corps (which began as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 and then was converted to the WAC a year later) were the single most significant step toward the postwar Women’s Armed Services Integration Act. Many of these women were deployed to the European and Pacific theaters, serving in crucial roles in the war’s difficult final years. Moreover, this was a truly multicultural community, including the all-African American 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the more than 200 Puerto Rican women who served in the WAC, and the 50 Japanese and Chinese American women recruited as translators. The WAC thus served as a powerful and influential argument for the integration of the armed forces in terms of both gender and race.

2)      The Marine Corps Women’s Reserve (MCWR): The Army might have featured the war’s most prominent roles for women, but the other branches of the armed forces likewise created their own influential such communities. Created in 1943, the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was defined by some of the most inspiring women in American history, such as Minnie Spotted-Wolf, a Blackfoot woman from Montana who became the first Native American woman in the Marines when she enlisted. Or Lucille McClarren, the stenographer whose March 1943 enlistment made her the organization’s first private. Or Ruth Cheney Streeter, the clothing designer and mother of four who in January 1943 was commissioned as major and made director of the MCWR for the duration of the war.

3)      The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs): Even the women who served in more fully civilian roles did so in courageous and groundbreaking ways, as reflected by the more than 1000 pilots who became the first women to fly American military aircraft. Organized into the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD), these skilled pilots helped move vital aircraft throughout the United States; and in this still-early era of flight they did so at considerable risk, as 38 WASPs died in accidents in the course of the war. Like all the women who served in World War 2, these pilots didn’t just help change the culture of the American military; they contributed to ongoing changes in every layer of American society that would only accelerate in the postwar decades.

Last war women tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? Other stories or histories you’d highlight?

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