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Public Image

WACS lined up in Review

WACs in Review

From its inception, the Women's Army Corps was in the public eye. Initially, because of the recruitment campaigns based on patriotism and glamorization of war work, media attention focused on the newness of the experience and public interest elements of WAC service. The WAC leadership tried to nurture and protects the public image of the Women's Army Corps by rigid recruiting standards and strict regulations governing conduct and the relationships between officers and enlisted women. The WAC conducted themselves admirably, they made valuable contributions to the war effort and had an impressive service record at home and abroad. The initial concerns about women in the military had been quelled and America accepted the Women's Army Corps.

Yet, it was not easy to overcome negative stereotypes that centered upon the fact that women had entered a male arena. Women could not afford to be less than 100 percent military, and they had to repeatedly prove themselves and struggle against suspicions of incompetence. Male hostility to women in the military could be formidable and was based upon resentment over women replacing men so that they could go into combat. Another reason for male animosity was the attention given to high recruiting standards of the Women's Army Corps, which were above those of male draftees.

The low point was 1943 when the Women's Army Corps experienced a smear campaign. Rumors circulated about drunkenness, sexual promiscuity, WAC pregnancies, and the impropriety of the Army issuing condoms to WACs. An investigation conducted by Army intelligence in conjunction with the Federal Bureau of Investigation found the allegations untrue. According to Major General Jeanne Holm, USAF (Retired) in her study of Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, the investigation proved that disgruntled GIs, intent on discrediting WACs and driving women out of the military, were behind the episode. At the root of their antagonism was the favorable attention the women received and resentment over WACs replacing men who then had to go into combat.

While the 1943 smear campaign had an impact on morale and national recruiting efforts, at Camp Hale the impact was negligible. Camp Hale experienced relative isolation from national media trends, and the WACs stationed there had enlisted long before the negative publicity began. In general, the WACs of Camp Hale thought they were treated with the respect and dignity they deserved.

WAC Mechanic repairing an army truck
WAC mechanic repairs Army truck. (National Archives)  

For additional reading on the public image scandal, see the following printed sources.

A brief synopsis of the article accompanies the citation.

Newsweek, May 10, 1943, "WRAC - A -Bye Baby, " p. 48

At Fort Des Moines, after 9 days of training, a 22 year old, unmarried, Negro WAAC complained of illness and gave birth to a baby the next day. "The official response was a guess that the WAAC had been given 'a careless physical examination.'"

Newsweek, June 14, 1943, "WAAC Whispers," p. 36

Questions of WAAC immorality raised by Rep. Beverly M. Vincent (KY Democrat) who had "Read somewhere that they 'had to be given protection, probably by the convents or by the Mother Superior'" in North Africa. Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers of Mass., author of WAAC Bill defended WAAC morality and claimed that the rumors were "Nazi inspired."

Newsweek, June 21, 1943, "WRAC Rumors"

A House Military Affairs subcommittee began an independent inquiry into allegations of WAAC immorality. Oveta Culp Hobby and Brig. General Norman Kirk (Army Surgeon General) supplied data on the life and health of WAAC members. Eleanor Roosevelt's response was "Will we ever get over believing Nazi propaganda?" Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson called the rumors "SINISTER." The problem centered on charges that the WAACs had been furnished contraceptives and prophylactics. Col. Oveta Culp Hobby adamantly denied the allegations. The episode created a stir in the Roman Catholic Church.

Time, June 21, 1943, The press Column "O'Donnell's Foul," p. 90

John O'Donnell, New York Daily Newscolumnist, reported that contraceptives and prophylactic equipment were to become government issue for WAACs. He reported that this information was obtained through an " intelligent and trustworthy official" who saw it as "... a victory for the New ladies who [think that] girls who want to go into uniform and fight ... have the same right here and abroad to indulge their passing fancies.” Apparently antagonism to Franklin Delano Roosevelt was behind his rumors. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson stated, "I have made a thorough investigation of all these rumors. They are completely false. Anything which would interfere with [WRAC] recruiting or destroy the reputation of this corps and, by so doing, interfere with the increase in combat strength of our Army, would [aid] the enemy..."

Time included the "Sample Rumor: Many pregnant WAACs have been shipped home from North Africa." The facts were that three of 250 have been sent home for (1) unsuitable temperament, (2) gall bladder ailment, (3) legitimate childbirth. [The concern for women in North Africa in all probability tied to the fact that they were among the first women to go overseas. Thus they were very high profile personnel.]

Time, July 12, 1943, "The President and the Press," p. 68.

FDR issued a statement accusing the press of impeding the war effort through home front subversion. In response to the allegations of WAAC immorality, Roosevelt stated "They were deliberate and shameful."

Time, Dec. 27, 1943, "Women, 'In This Total War'," p. 63.

Recent information from the Army indicated that recruitment quotas had not been met for the WAC. Many reasons were listed, among them were servicemen think a woman's place is in the home and the scandalous rumors of WAAC immorality.

For a Colorado perspective, see the following citation.

Leadville Herald Democrat, June 10, 1943, "Smear Rumors on WAACs Assailed by Sec. Stimson," p. l.

Secretary of War Stimson addressed the hateful and unfounded rumors of WAAC immorality: "I refer to charges of immorality and particularly to the allegations that the War Department has agreed to the issuance of contraceptives and prophylactic equipment to the members of this corps.... The repetition of any unfounded rumor concerning this corps lessens confidence in it and is actually an aid to the enemy."

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