Like most gals during WWII, Rosie the Riveter was wacky for khaki.
But Rosie didn’t just swoon for a man in a uniform; Rosie wanted to wear one herself!
Like every Mrs. and Miss America, Rosie was doing her part for the war effort. Not only was she a regular soldier in the kitchen saving her fats and counting her points,but dressed in the trim attire of the Red Cross Motor Corps- or handing out sandwiches down at the canteen- or doing any of a dozen “extra duty” jobs, she was stepping out for victory.
And she had already proved herself down at the defense plant that she could handle any job a man could.
But now Rosie wanted in on the action.
She wanted to be a soldier on the front lines, and not just a soldier on the home front.
Radiating vitality and high spirits, she had the time and youthful energy to fight for freedom. Joining the army would be her personal gateway to adventure.
“It was imperative to go now!” she would say to anyone within earshot. “Lose the war and there would be no home front to come home to.”
Back the Attack
Besides which, by 1944 the newly hatched WAC’s was actually a gen-u-ine part of Uncle Sam’s Army, not merely an auxiliary like its earlier incarnation the WAAC’s.
After much debate, in July of 1943 FDR had signed a bill changing the name of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corp (WAAC) to Women’s Army Corp (WAC), making it part of the Army Reserves.
An aggressive publicity campaign for enlistment was launched on behalf of the newly formed women’s corps that included along with the WACs, the Navy’s WAVES ( Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) and the Coast Guard SPARS, which came from the Coast Guard Motto Semper Paratus- always ready.
I Love A Gal in Uniform
Madison Avenue jumped on the bandwagon wasting no time in picturing glamor pusses decked out in spiffy uniform to sell their products.
Sometimes it seemed to Rosie as if every movie star in Hollywood was joining up ( if only in the movies).
It’s a Man’s World
But not everyone was as gung-ho as Rosie to let a gal in the military.
Despite the plethora of publicity featuring pretty girls in uniform, the initial response to the idea of women enlisting met with enormous resistance.
There were plenty of arm-chair generals around, including Rosie’s father who wondered “What the devil did a woman want to be a soldier for? After all it’s a man’s world!”
Old time officers and their band of enlisted brothers couldn’t get used to the idea of women in uniform, One Marine commanding officer got his hackles up when told that female Marines were to be sent to him.”Damn it all;” he barked, “first they send dogs; now it’s women.”
In 1939 while Hitler goosestepped all over Europe and the threat of war loomed ominous, the Army had looked at the probability that women would serve in some capacity in the army. An officer predicted that “women’s probable jobs would include those of hostess, librarians, canteen clerks, cooks and waitresses, chauffeurs, messengers and strolling minstrels.”
English Rose in the Army
By 1941 with the drums of war getting louder, the need to free as many male soldiers as possible for combat became urgent.
When people wondered whether women really could help win a war, they pointed to other counties like Britain, Russia and China where women were already pitching in to help win the war.
A lengthy article that ran in Life Magazine in August of 1941 about the British women in the military gave American women an idea of what they could do should the US go to war.
The English girl on the cover of was one of millions of English women who were actively fighting the total war against Hitler. The article explained: “She wears an ATS on her Khaki cap standing for Auxiliary Territorial Service ie the woman auxiliaries who release men from non fighting jobs in the Army.”
That same year, Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill calling for the creation of an all volunteer Woman’s Corp in the Army separate and distinct from the existing Army Nurses Corps.
Although Rogers believed the Women’s Corps should be part of the Army so women would receive equal pay, pension and disability benefits, the boys club that was the army balked at accepting women directly into its ranks.
The issue was hotly debated, dissected and scrutinized in Congress.
“With women in the armed services,” one representative asked “Who will then do the cooking, the washing, the mending, the humble homey tasks to which every woman had devoted herself; who will nurture the children?”
America at War
Pearl Harbor quickly put an end to that debate.
When faced with fighting a 2 front war and supplying men and materiel for that war, the military and politicians realized that women could supply the additional resources so desperately needed in the military.
The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was officially established in May 1942 to provide women to fill support roles and free up more men for combat duty.
Although the women who joined considered themselves in the army, technically they were civilians working with the Army until 1943 when a new congressional bill transformed the WAAC to the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) giving Army women military status.
Facts About The WAC’s
Rosie knew being a soldier might just involve more than a smart uniform and handsome soldiers and sailing away to exotic lands. Courage and character -she had ’em in spades.
But some of the other girls were a bit apprehensive.
Physical stamina was certainly the first thing any soldier would need and lots of it. “All that marching and jumping jacks,” fretted her friend Maizie “The drilling sounds so strenuous!” “Nonsense! “Rosie read reassuringly to her from WAC Answer and Question Guide for Patriotic American Women, “The most beautiful women in America today are the girls in khaki! Some calisthenics and drilling are vital to general good health, discipline and tuned up reflexes.”
“I’ve never been away from home,” her pal Betsy brooded. “My parents wonder about this strange new life for me,” a nervous Nancy chimed in.
“Joining any of the military services is like going to Girl Scout camp except that it is difficult to run home to mother if you don’t happen to like it,” chuckled Rosie
She continued, reading from the WAC Guide:
“There couldn’t be a better place for you than in the WAC where you will receive excellent care in every way, enjoy the companionship of other fine women from all over the US, and lead a wholesome healthy life under the leadership of understanding, intelligent officers. Each day is so interesting and full f activity there’s hardly time for loneliness.”
You’re In The Army Now
Rosie’s heart raced the day she received an envelope from the War Dept.
Assigned to a post in Des Moines, Rosie looked all around her. Tanks and jeeps roared by, the sky was gray with planes buzzing over the airfield. Rosie decided she was going to like Army life.
Before long they were taking sizable hikes and wearing camouflage and flinging herself into a fox hole.
In short time she was ready for active duty, anxious to be among the men, the tanks and heavy field mortars.
But even if her assignment as an unglamorous typist never took her farther than a dusty Post in Oklahoma, she proudly wore her uniform knowing she had freed a man for combat! Her typing job helped the army win the war just as women had always helped men achieve success…behind the lines.
It would still take 68 years for the US lifts its ban on women in combat.
Copyright (©) 2013 Sally Edelstein All Rights Reserved
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