views updated Jun 11 2018

WAC. Half a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill in Congress on 28 May 1941, to establish a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) within the U.S. Army. Mrs. Rogers's bill aroused immediate controversy: most men in Congress and the War Department opposed the idea of women in the military.

To gain passage, Mrs. Rogers had to accept changes in the WAAC bill. When it was finally passed on 14 May 1942, it provided for a corps of 25,000, to be an auxiliary to the U.S. Army without military status. Later that year, the corps was authorized to increase to 150,000. The WAACs would serve under women commanders, be given duty at army posts in the United States and overseas, have separate grade titles and pay schedules from men, be noncombatants, wear uniforms, and serve under WAAC rather than army regulations. The head of the corps would have the title of colonel but receive the lower pay of an army major. Ironically, bills enacted later in 1942 permitted women to serve in the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps as reservists on active duty with the same military status, pay, and benefits as men.

On 1 September 1943, Congress gave the WAACs military status and eliminated “Auxiliary” from the title. (Over 60,000 members were on active duty then; 937 in North Africa and England.) Members of the new Women's Army Corps (WAC) now had the same grade titles, pay, benefits, and privileges as men in the army. But they could not command men's units, participate in combat, rise to a grade higher than lieutenant colonel, or automatically receive pay and benefits for their dependents as men did. One woman, the director, Oveta Culp Hobby, received the title and pay of a full colonel.

Initially, as WAACs, women were limited to work as clerks, cooks, drivers, and telephone operators. After receiving military status, the WACs were assigned to an increasing variety of army jobs. By war's end, they were serving in all theaters of war and almost every noncombat job. Nearly 100,000 were on active duty on 30 April 1945–over 16,000 serving overseas.

After World War II, the new chief of staff of the army, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, asked Congress to enact legislation to make the Women's Army Corps part of the Regular Army and the Organized Reserve Corps (later U.S. Army Reserve). He wanted WACs permanently in the army to do the work they had done so well in wartime. The bill was enacted 12 July 1948. The WAC then became a separate corps (or branch) of the Regular Army. WAC officers and NCOs commanded units of enlisted women, who were housed in separate detachments, companies, or battalions on army posts. WAC officers and enlisted women were assigned, sent to schools, discharged, and retired by Department of the Army orders.

When the Korean War began on 25 June 1950, WAC strength was 7,300, but it increased to 12,000 a year later. In Korea, the combat zone was so fluid and unpredictable that a noncombatant WAC unit could not be assigned in the country. Only a half‐dozen WAC officers and enlisted women served as stenographers and interpreters.

After the war ended (1953), WAC strength fell to 7,800. The corps was rejuvenated when the army built a permanent WAC training center and school (1954) at Fort McClellan, Alabama. (Today, the Women's Army Corps is located there.) New opportunities opened for women officers and enlisted women in communications, intelligence, logistics, and transportation.

During the Berlin crisis (1961) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), both active duty and reserve WACs participated in logistical efforts. In June 1962, WAC strength was 11,113; following the pattern after crises, it fell to 8,700 by June 1964.

Early in the 1960s, South Vietnam requested and obtained U.S. advisers to help train defense forces. In January 1965, the U.S. Army began sending one WAC officer and one NCO to Saigon each year for a one‐year tour. They helped the South Vietnam government organize and train a Women's Armed Forces Corps. In 1967, a WAC unit of 100 arrived for duty with the U.S. Army, Vietnam, at Long Binh; others worked in Saigon as clerk‐typists, stenographers, finance and supply clerks, intelligence technicians, and communications specialists. By 1972, opposition to the war caused President Richard M. Nixon to order the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Vietnam. The WAC detachment left in October 1972.

For years, directors of the WAC and heads of the other women's services had tried to obtain equality of promotion and retirement for women officers. Finally, on 8 November 1967, Congress enacted a bill to equalize retirement eligibility and remove restrictions, making women officers eligible to compete for promotion to general and flag rank. On 10 June 1971, WAC director Elizabeth P. Hoisington, was the first WAC officer to be promoted to brigadier general.

After 1967, WAC directors obtained other important policy and statutory changes. Women could command men's units, serve in ROTC, be assigned to combat support positions, become pilots of noncombat planes, remain on active duty while pregnant, and attend senior service colleges. Separate WAC units and the position of WAC staff adviser were eliminated in 1973 and 1974, respectively. Except in combat units and combat jobs, army men and women were assigned interchangeably to positions in the United States and overseas. In 1974, WAC officers were released from WAC branch and assigned to other noncombat branches of the army. In 1976, women entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York.

The remaining vestiges of the Women's Army Corps were eliminated by Congress in 1978 so that women in the army could be more fully assimilated into the overall army structure. The positions of director and deputy director were abolished, April 1978; Congress then disestablished the WAC as a separate corps of the army, October 1978. Corps strength at that time was 52,997.

The action taken by Congress was not popular with the majority of corps members. They missed the cohesiveness of their units, the esprit fostered by individual and unit achievements, their role models, and the camaraderie of working together as a unit. By the 1990s, women served in most units and branches of the army except Infantry, Armor, and short‐range Artillery.
[See also Berlin Crises; Families; Military; Gender: Female Identity and the Military; WAVES; Women in the Military.]


Mattie E. Treadwell , The Women's Army Corps in World War II, 1954.
Bettie J. Morden , The Women's Army Corps, 1945–1978, 1990.

Bettie J. Morden


views updated May 14 2018

WAC / wak/ • abbr. Women's Army Corps.See Waac. ∎  (also Wac) a member of the Women's Army Corps.


views updated Jun 27 2018

WAC (wæk) (USA) Women's Army Corps (in World War II)
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