The Need for Military Status
The delay in the decision to launch the expansion program was partially attributable to debate on a controversial matter: whether to give full Army status and rank to women. The War Department's decision in this matter was never to be fully understood by many outside its planning group, representing as it did a complete reversal of the opinion of the previous year. For those inside the War Department, and for many station commanders employing WAAC companies, there actually was no room for question in the matter: the General Staff in fact was obliged to make the decision to grant Army status before it could authorize the expansion program. The evidence at hand overwhelmingly indicated that no great employment of woman power was even remotely possible under the Auxiliary system.
Administrative Handicaps of an Auxiliary
Almost from the moment the first Waacs reached them, Army field agencies had begun to bombard WAAC Headquarters with questions concerning which Army administrative procedures were applicable to the WAAC and which were illegal. This had once been considered a simple matter; it was now discovered that in almost all legal and technical matters it was far from simple, and that the problem was far more than that of dispensing information.
The questions were such that it was frequently necessary to consult authorities ranging as high as the Secretary of War, the Comptroller General, and the Bureau of the Budget before a legal answer might be obtained.
Thus, on the universal question of whether Waacs might use the franking privilege when mailing their letters, The Adjutant General ruled that Waacs were ``persons in the military service" for this purpose, but the Judge Advocate General ruled that they were not, and the privilege was rescinded after being widely used-a situation that distressed Waacs and caused many to realize for the first time that they were not soldiers or members of the military team.1 As time passed, almost no two authorities agreed upon the occasions when Waacs could be considered "persons in the military service.2 To permit WAAC units to shop at post exchanges and share dividends, the Secretary of War was forced to declare them persons in the military service.' On the other hand, General Grunert, the Judge Advocate General, and the Veterans' Administration united to overrule Director Hobby's request for Na-
tional Service Life Insurance for Waacs, declaring:
Such persons are not in the active service in the land or naval forces of the United States . . . . The WAAC as constituted under existing law is essentially a civilian group. The principle upon which war risk insurance is founded . . . has no application to those in civilian occupations.
G-1 Division believed this decision unfair, and attempted to process new legislation, but this was vetoed by the Bureau of the Budget.3
Likewise, the Judge Advocate General, General Grunert, and the Comptroller General agreed that Waacs were not "persons in the military service" for purposes of making allotments under the Servicemen's Dependents Allowance Act, nor could they even allot money from their own pay, since the act granted this privilege only to "members of the Army, Army Nurse Corps, contract surgeons, and civilians overseas." 4 On the other hand, Congress itself indicated that Waacs were "persons in the military service" under the Soldiers and Sailors Relief Act, so that The Adjutant General was able to issue Certificates of Military Service to protect members from litigation.5 .As for re-employment rights; Congress indicated that Waacs who left Civil Service jobs had soldiers' rights to reinstatement, but that those who left other jobs had not. When queried concerning state bonuses and other state benefits, The Judge Advocate General decided that each state would have to determine for itself whether Waacs were "persons in the military service" as interpreted by its laws.6 In some matters of finance, the Chief of Finance ruled that Waacs were "members of the military forces of the United States." but the Chief of Transportation was unable to find similar authority to pay for mileage or for transportation of dependents.7
Such administrative annoyances were endless and apparently would continue to be so while the WAAC remained an auxiliary. It was necessary to refuse Army station commanders' requests to award Waacs the Good Conduct Medal, to issue them the command's sleeve patch, to appoint them as warrant officers; even the chaplains were obliged to secure a special amendment before they could give each Waac a free New Testament.8 The final
word came: from The Quartermaster General who ruled that X,17aacs were not eligible for burial with a flag, military honors, or an escort to accompany the remains home. After conducting a Waac's funeral, an indignant American Legion post protested: "It would probably interest you to know that; at this particular Waac's funeral, she was given full military honors regardless of what her status is, even though she has passed on into another world." To this a harassed War Department made no reply. probably believing that it was difficult enough to determine a N1'aac's status in the present world without pursuing the matter further.9
There were minor points without number in which V1'aacs did not receive all of a soldier's privileges. Under the new military pay scale, the WAVES were able to offer recruits $50 a month, whereas, the Auxiliary legislation limited the WAAC to $21 a month. A particularly serious discrepancy was the matter of disability benefits and retirement. Soldiers and Waves who suffered disabling injuries or illnesses were entitled to lifetime pensions and hospitalization, but Waacs, under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, were entitled only to a few dollars' compensation. Under the law, the Army could give a Waac hospitalization only until her disability was pronounced permanent, at which time she must be discharged and ordered to leave the military reservation. She had no right to a pension or to veterans' hospitalization."10
The Auxiliary Disciplinary System
Even had these lesser administrative difficulties not existed, there was another, important enough in itself to have invalidated the Auxiliary system, and not capable of solution by any course short of full Army status; this was the question of establishing a legally sound and equitable WAAC disciplinary system.
It had been known since passage of the legislation that Waacs, like other civilians, could not legally be made subject to court-martial and to the Articles of War unless they were "in the field.'" This was not even a matter of discretion; no citizen of the United States could legally be tried by military courts unless he had military status or unless he accompanied an army in the field. When not "in the field," the WAAC had its own code of conduct, which was extremely strict but which was limited to civilian punishments for infractions-fines, reprimands, restrictions, or discharge (white or blue); it could not legally subject members to court-martial, imprisonment, or dishonorable (yellow) discharge.11
During the autumn of 1943, Judge Advocate General decisions began to make it clear that Waacs could almost never be considered "in the field" unless they were overseas or in the unlikely event that they should accompany an army on maneuvers.12 One station commander did actually try a Waac by court-martial on the grounds that his station on the Eastern seaboard was subject to attack and therefore "in the field," but by the time the
Judge Advocate General had considered the legality of the proceedings, the Waac had served her sentence and been discharged.13 The Judge Advocate General decided that other stations, if they wished to take court-martial action against a Waac, must first get a legal decision as to whether the post was currently subject to attack, and that "military police would be liable for suit if restraint was found improper."14
At first there appeared to be little need for military discipline to hold Waacs in their jobs, but when recruiting quotas were raised standards fell somewhat and several WAAC "Awols" occurred. The military police occasionally apprehended a few and began to ask the correct procedure to follow in returning them. One service command inquired: Could the procedure in Army Regulations and the Articles of War be followed' Or were only members of the WAAC qualified to arrest a Waac? Was it legal to confine them until they could be returned? 15
WAAC Headquarters at first replied that the regular procedure should be followed, except that the women should not be confined in the: same guardhouses with men and should have WAAC escorts on the return trip. As WAAC Headquarters attempted to revise the regulations to this effect, it became evident that there was no legal way to provide for the return of a Waac to WAAC control; in the few cases shipped back so far, the expenditure of government funds had been illegal.16
Army staff members surmised that nothing could be done except to let the woman go and to mail her a blue discharge. To this the Judge Advocate General added that there was probably no legal foundation to the whole WAAC disciplinary system: any punishment meted out by WAAC company commanders might be unconstitutional, since it was not done by court-martial and therefore deprived the individual of civil rights without due process of law. Only admonition or reprimand would be safe. Restriction to quarters would be legal if it was not considered "confinement." Summary (blue) discharge, said the Judge Advocate General in an informal conference, was also probably "legal" although "without due process of law." This so startled WAAC Headquarters that it hastily drew up a directive to the field forbidding any further company discipline until the matter was settled. After consideration, this was not sent out; the Corps had gone too far to retreat, and since the Office of the Judge Advocate General itself had written the WAAC disciplinary regulations only a few months before, it was believed that some legal basis must exist.17
Accordingly, steps were taken to set up an exact procedure for trying offenses, so as to protect the individual. Also, after considerable debate, the authority of the military police was extended to apply to Waacs. This was somewhat risky in view of representations previously made to Congress that the women would be under virtually no more restraint than civilian employees except when "in the field." Therefore, to ward off Congressional criti-
cism, the provision was made that Waacs would not be placed in guardhouses. Such official extension of authority was needed quickly if WAAC Awols were to be returned at all, since some service commands had already forbidden their military police to take any responsibility in effecting apprehension of absentees.18
Even if absentees were returned to their company, there was no way of holding them. "Restriction to quarters" could obviously not be enforced on a determined absentee unless several shifts of guards were placed in the barracks.19 As time went on, the situation became more than family ridiculous. Two young sisters named Lydia and Elvira wired Director Hobby:
HAVE BEEN IN WAACS 3/2 MONTHS. NOW AT HOME ON EMERGENCY FURLOUGH. HAVE NO INTENTION TO RETURN. CANNOT TAKE BEING IN' CORPS. NERVOUS WRECK AND WILL LOSE OUR MIND IF NOT RELEASED. MA NEEDS US BOTH A'1' HOME AND CANNOT RETURN UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. PLEASE TAKE IMMEDIATE ACTION AND REPLY.20
This was probably the only occasion in history when a deserter directed a commanding officer to "take immediate action and reply." There were other cases even more annoying; for instance, four women who were picked up in Washington after repeated absences without leave. The report said: "The girls claim they know Regulations and nothing can be done to them to hold them if they want to go AWOL except discharge, which is what they want most."21 In another case, a Waac from a large city alighted from the train at the dreary and isolated station which was to be her first assignment. Upon being informed that there were 149 Waacs at a nearby station behind sand dunes and brush, she remarked, "Well, there won't be 150"; she climbed back on the train and was never seen again.22 Some new recruits even refused to comply with initial orders to active duty if they had changed their minds since taking the oath of enlistment.23
In other words, it was now clear that the Army had little more hold over Waacs than over civilian workers. The women could obviously leave the service at any time they desired, .just as a civilian employee could. Under such conditions it would be risky to replace thousands of trained men on any very vital or secret work with an equal number of Waacs who might depart as readily as other civilians. The large women's corps which the War Department planned could scarcely be built on such shaky foundations.
Long before the examples cited had come to light, the War Department had perceived that remedial legislation would be necessary. Some three months before, General Marshall had directed preparation of such legislation to give the WAAC the new pay scale beginning at $50 a month. Noting that the Services of Supply had taken no action on it in this period, the Chief of Staff expressed some annoy-
ance, in view of the WAVES' competition, and wrote: "It should be pressed to the limit." 24 In the same bill, it was asked that the confusing WAAC grades, officer and enlisted, be changed to correspond exactly to the Army's, except that general officer grades would not be open to women. Considerable Congressional objection resulted. The House first voted to leave the Director's and assistant directors' pay at the equivalent of major and captain, respectively, on the grounds that "the duties and responsibilities of these officers" did not merit higher pay. After some delay, the pay bill was finally approved intact on 26 October 1942.25
Other piecemeal legislation followed. On 23 July Congresswoman Edith Ropers had introduced a bill to give Waacs the benefits of National Service Life Insurance, but this got nowhere.26 On 8 October Mrs. Ropers introduced a bill to grant Waacs hospitalization and domiciliary care by the Veterans' Administration. Five months later, after numerous vicissitudes, this provision, plus burial benefits, was enacted into law.27 In October, November, and again in January, bills were introduced to give free postage to Waacs, but these also got nowhere.28 In October Mrs. Ropers introduced a bill to place the WAAC in the Army Reserve Corps.29 This was intended to supplant the pay bill and other partial legislation by making pay and everything else equivalent. It did not pass, because General Marshall informally sent word to Congress that he believed the pay bill urgent and did not wish to delay it with a more controversial measure. General White reported:
He General Marshall] said that at that time the Corps was still in a formative period, we had no units actually organized and functioning with the Army [as distinguished from the Aircraft Warning Service], and under the circumstances he preferred that we go ahead as we were until we had gone far enough to know just how valuable this Corps was going to be to the Army.30
Introduction of WAC Bill
By the beginning of 1943 General Marshall had changed his mind. He informed the Director:
Although the Corps is still in the formative period of organization, its members have convincingly demonstrated their ability to render a vital military service. The standards of discipline, training, and general efficiency are on the highest level and are a complete reassurance to the officials of the War Department as to the outstanding services which will be rendered by this organization.31
In January Mrs. Ropers worked with the Director's Office to draft a bill for Army status. This she introduced on 14 January 1943. The bill very simply stated that women might be enlisted and com-
missioned in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Army of the United States. A later version changed the proposed name to Women's Army Corps. No limitations were placed upon the Secretary of War's authority over the size of the Corps, rank, pay, or any other matter. 32
The War Department's official attitude toward the new bill was not at once made clear, but on 1 February the Secretary of War announced his support, stating: "Although in the past the War Department has not advocated the establishment of the Corps as a part of the Army, experience has proved that the present arrangement will not be satisfactory.33 On 3 February General White of G-1 Division told a Senate committee:
We are now in the position of favoring that which we have heretofore in a sense opposed-not that we did not want it in the beginning . . . . We have more than 10,000 now actually organized into units and on duty in the field . . . . Wherever we have put them they have proved highly valuable.34
However, General White informed the committee that in his opinion a WAAC unit would not be able to replace an equal number of men, stating concerning the replacement: "Well, I do not think it will run quite one for one. I have always estimated that three women would release two men.35
By the date of the next hearings in early March, War Department support was considerably more enthusiastic. Reports from the first unit at Fort Sam Houston indicated that three women had replaced, not two men, but four. It was indicated that one woman could not replace one man in heavy work such as motor transport, but that women stenographers, typists, and switchboard operators could often replace two or more men apiece.
Equally good reports also began to arrive from the Forth African unit and the antiaircraft experiment, accompanied by requisitions for more Waacs. Thereafter the War Department without hesitation directed every station receiving 150 Waacs to effect replacement of 150 enlisted men a rate which was actually better than one for one, since part of the women had to be used for unit housekeeping and were not available to replace men.36
In an effort to secure speedy enactment of military status for women, General Marshall informed Congress in early March:
In recent months great strides have been made in the organization. Sufficient numbers have now been trained, organized into appropriate units, and placed on duty in various activities to enable us to know that we are moving in the right direction. I am now certain that the women's organization will be of great value to the military service . . . .
It is evident also that the operation of the women's organization will be simplified and its efficiency vastly improved if it is made an actual component of the Army. The personnel of the Army have definite, defined duties, are subjected to prescribed disciplines, and have clear-cut relations to each other and to the civilian population. These have been found necessary to the effective functioning of military establishments the world over. They are equally important in the WAAC, which in its present half-civilian, half-military status will be seriously handicapped . . . .
Having the Corps with the Army, but not
in it, also results in inequalities and injustices to its members . . . . There is, finally, the important element of morale. Membership in the Army carries with it a natural and proper pride . . . for which service in an adjunct of the Army provides no satisfactory substitute.37
General White in his testimony was even more specific on the administrative annoyances of an auxiliary system. He said:
We have found that we run into administrative, disciplinary,38 and command difficulties . . . . The Army Regulations are not applicable to the Waacs. The Army Regulations are contained in a set of books as long as this table. It took years to develop them. Now we are faced with having to develop almost a parallel set of regulations to govern another part of the Army . . . . There are little things that are constant irritants. They are the same difficulties we had in trying to operate the Army Specialists Corps-people not in the Army working with and doing the same thing people in the Army were doing, on a different basis and in a different status. There are questions of relative rank, command, administrative records, and so forth. It just simplifies the whole operation of the Corps to have them all alike. 1n other words, in the Army we want one category of people.39
No difficulty was encountered in the Senate, which passed the bill on 15 February 1943. The House of Representatives was another matter: its Committee on Military Affairs appeared hopelessly divided into two factions, which at public hearings fell to quarreling so vigorously that their chairman was obliged to remind them that such discussions should be taken up in executive session and not in the presence of Army witnesses.
One faction held with the congressman from Texas who said, "I spoke against it putting the WAAC in the Army the previous year four times from the floor . . . .
Then we went ahead and organized the other women's auxiliaries as integral parts of the other services; I feel that we are going to have to do this now, no matter how good my argument was before." However, a representative from Indiana argued that draftees should receive soldiers' benefits, but Waacs and men who volunteered should not because they were not "forced into the Army." He also maintained that Waacs should not get soldiers' benefits because they did not go into front lines; this provoked an argument over whether General Eisenhower and the men in his fixed headquarters were entitled to military status. A congressman from Ohio joined in objecting to compensation for both husband and wife if both were in the Army and both were injured.
It was also feared that a Waac's husband would get a government allotment whether he needed it or not, since the law provided this for a soldier's wife whether she needed it or not. On this General White observed, "I am inclined to believe that the Comptroller General, who at one time recently ruled, in effect, that women were not persons, would rule that husbands are not wives." The representative from Ohio also failed to understand why the Secretary of War could not legally make the authority of military courts applicable to civilian women without giving them military status and benefits: this brought on another futile discussion of what "in the: field" meant.40
It very shortly became clear that the
House of Representatives would not pass the bill without any number of hampering amendments concerning the size of the Corps, the top rank attainable, the types of duty permitted, and the benefits to be allowed. These amendments would have to be fought out with the Senate and a compromise reached, and when, if ever, the legislation would pass now became uncertain.
The first six months of 1943 were therefore, from the Corps' viewpoint, to be much like the uncertain period of the previous spring, when passage of the first WAAC bill was not sure and all plans had to be made subject to change without notice. However, in this case, the Corps was not merely a plan on paper; it was a living organization which grew from 12,767 women in December 1942 to 60,243 in June 1943, and which required detailed administration. Passage of the bill was to be expected in March, in April, in May. Director Hobby said, when it did not pass in April, "I am sure it will come in May as a birthday present to the Corps.41 But it was not to come in May, or in early June.
Meanwhile, from January of 1943 onward, the War Department, insofar as legally possible, proceeded with plans for the expansion program, both in the United States and overseas, as if it were an assured fact that the Corps would be given military status.
Page Created August 23 2002
Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Return to the Table of Contents