Today in Feminist History is our daily recap of the major milestones and minor advancements that shaped women’s history in the U.S.—from suffrage to Shirley Chisholm and beyond. These posts were written by, and are presented in homage to, our late staff historian and archivist, David Dismore.
May 12, 1942: Legislation to establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) got final Congressional approval today with a Senate vote of 38 to 27. It passed the House on March 17th by a vote of 249 to 86.
The bill, sponsored by Representative Edith Nourse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts, now goes to President Roosevelt for his signature. Under the provisions of this bill, the WAAC will enlist up to 150,000 members who may serve anywhere in the world they’re needed, will receive Army pay, be subject to military regulations, and live on Army posts.
The two-hour debate prior to the vote was intense at times, as Senator Francis Maloney, Democrat of Connecticut and John Danaher, Republican of Connecticut, led those arguing against the bill.
In addition to failing to defeat the bill, Maloney was also thwarted in his attempt to pass an amendment to confine the WAAC to service within the boundaries of the United States. His proposal was defeated by a vote of 37 to 26, with Senator Hattie Caraway, Democrat of Arkansas, the only woman in the Senate, voting in favor of the Rogers Bill and against the Maloney Amendment. Senator Maloney seems to be opposed to women in any military capacity, and claimed that this measure “casts a shadow on the sanctity of the home.”
Another controversy involved the issue of race. Three amendments were proposed which would have specifically banned racial bias in the WAAC. But if amended in any way, the bill would have had to go back to the House for approval, and this would have delayed, for an unknown amount of time, the establishment of the WAAC.
Though under normal circumstances the bill’s chief Senate sponsor, Senator Warren Austin, Republican of Vermont, would have endorsed an anti-racial-bias amendment, he said that the need for immediate passage of the bill, and the assurance of the War Department that it would not discriminate on the basis of race in the WAAC caused him to oppose the amendments. Two amendments were withdrawn, and the third, by Senator James Hughes, Democrat of Delaware, was rejected by a voice vote. According to Senator Austin, there is “nothing in the bill which would lead to discrimination.”
As soon as President Roosevelt signs the bill, the War Department will give specific details on plans to implement it, and Secretary of War Stimson will name someone to lead the Corps. The Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps will be open to women between the ages of 21 and 45. Once functioning, the WAAC will free many men for combat, and provide a major boost to our defense effort in a number of critical areas at a time when the talents and abilities of all our citizens are needed most.