GRAINS FROM THE SANDBAR
Early in 1941, as war raged in Europe, a World War I nursing volunteer, Edith Nourse Rogers, as a U. S. Representative of Massachusetts, introduced a bill to create the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Rogers was also a veteran’s advocate, remembering how the “Hello Girls,” who served as critical telephone operators during the fiercest Argonne Forest battle in France, got ‘stoned’ out of subsequent military benefits.
With what appeared to be a certainty that the United States would become physically embroiled in the European World War II, Rogers’ bill was her effort to establish a Women’s Army Corps that would receive benefits.
On the other side of the ‘coin’ was Texas’ Oveta Culp Hobby, who had acquired national prominence when she married former Governor of Texas William P. Hobby, editor and future owner of the Houston Post. She was drawn into the women’s issue as military leaders, probably prompted by Rogers’ bill, contacted Hobby for “suggestions on how the military might organize an auxiliary branch for women.” Hobby prepared and submitted a “potential organization chart”.
On Dec. 6, 1941, the Japanese attack on the U. S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor prompted a ‘sense of urgency’ to the work of both Rogers and Hobby. Five months later, on May 14, 1942, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps was created with Hobby named as its director.
The first WAAC training center was established at Fort Des Moines in Iowa. Eager to serve, records show that in the beginning nearly 35,000 women applied for the only 1,000 open spots. Applicants needed to be U. S. citizens between the ages of 21-45, with no dependents, at least 5-feet tall and weigh a minimum of 100 pounds. They were classified as an auxiliary of the Army and provided living quarters, uniforms, pay and food. They would not, however, receive overseas pay, life insurance and death benefits. They were immediately trained to ‘free up positions’ held by male soldiers, enabling them to go overseas and into battle.
Representative Rogers was not finished. In 1943, she again introduced legislation to enhance the WAAC. The bill proposed that the WAAC become the Women’s Army Corps and part of the regular Army. They then would receive a rank with equal pay and benefits equal to the male regulars. Rogers’ bill passed, also awarding the rank of Colonel to Director Oveta Culp Hobby.
The WACS first were sent into the European Theater of Operations in July 1943 before entering other war locations. They served in a variety of duties – clerical work, translation, mechanics, photography and, later, in recovery of priceless art and artifacts looted by the Nazis.
Representative Rogers was “thrust into political office” when her husband, Representative John Jacob Rogers died in 1925. Her 35- year House career established the longest tenure of any woman to date. She authored other far reaching legislation along with the GI Bill of Rights.
Colonel Hobby was not only the first director of the U. S. Women’s Army Corps but went on to serve as the first secretary of the U. S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare from 1953 to 1955. She later became the editor and publisher of the Houston Post. Born at Killeen, Texas, in 1905 she died at age 90 in 1995.
Written by Betty Dunn, Two Rivers Heritage Foundation. For more information on the Two Rivers Heritage Foundation or to become a member, go to www.tworiversheritagefoundation.org .