The idea of women in Army uniforms has been highly dismissed by many Americans, with many conforming to the notion that a woman’s place would always be in the confines of the home. But with the growing need for manpower from an ever-shrinking pool of candidates, by mid-1943, the Army had resigned its strict policy and finally allowed eligible and capable women across the state to enlist and fill in the much-needed non-combat positions.

Except for nurses who had been serving wounded and sick men during wartime, this was the first time women were allowed within the ranks of the Army, which led to the creation of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).

Civilian Women in the Army

Civilian women have since tended to soldiers during wartime (both in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars), performing duties such as camp followers, cooks, and other chores in the same way they had done for their men during peacetime. However, like nurses, these women do not receive the same recognition and compensation as their counterparts.

Camp Followers
An 1862 photograph of a camp follower with her 31st Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

As technology advanced in the early 20th century, new job opportunities arose for women as telephone operators. But instead of direct recruitment, the Army employed civilian women from commercial telephone companies. Known as the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), this group of civilian women served as telephone operators. The first group was hired and dispatched to Paris in early 1918—and these ladies were killing it.

Nonetheless, the Army stuck to its gun and remained gender-restricted despite witnessing the impeccable service of women during the First World War. When the Great Depression ensued in the late 1920s, the adherence to the social ideology of “women staying at home while men went out to work” increased, effectively putting a stop to the burgeoning feminist activities.

Then, World War II happened.

Women-power Filling in Manpower Shortage

At the height of the Second World War, the Army had reached the limits of its eligible men candidates in the country, leaving most of the non-combat positions empty. Meanwhile, the number of eager women who wanted to serve continued to double, especially after the tragedy in Pearl Harbor. They felt the need to help the country too.

US Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts foresaw the possibility of women being needed in the Army again, so she drafted the bill to establish the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in May 1941, modeled after the British Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) branch.