Today in Feminist History: Women Are the “Best Soldiers” (July 25, 1946)

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.


July 25, 1946: The Women’s Army Corps turned out to be such a wartime success that legislation was introduced into both the House and Senate today to continue it as a permanent part of America’s military.

Insignia of an officer in the Women’s Army Corps, appropriately depicting Pallas Athene, often referred to as Athena.

Bills to assure that WACs will always constitute 2% of our Army’s total strength were introduced by the Senate and House Military Affairs Committees at the request of the War Department, and with the backing of President Truman. This is certainly a welcome change from recent campaigns seeking to push women out of the same civilian jobs they were strongly urged to take just four years ago.

The future of the Corps looked grim when recruiting ended last August, and all training schools were shut down. A year ago there were 99,388 WACs, but that fell to 19,592 by June first of this year. However, rather than being forcibly disbanded, like the Women Air Service Pilots (WASPs), the Women’s Army Corps now seems about to be reinvigorated. The Woman’s Army Auxiliary Corps was originally established on May 15, 1942, and then became the Women’s Army Corps on July 1,1943, with its members gaining full military status. 

The strongest supporter of women in the military is Representative Edith Nourse Rogers, Republican of Massachusetts. She was sponsoring legislation to permit women to serve their country in uniform even before America was attacked at Pearl Harbor. She said today:

“The bill to continue the WAC is a recognition of their services. I am delighted that they are going to continue. The legislation should get through easily in view of the record. They paved the way for all other women’s services except the Nurse Corps.” 

Over 140,000 women have served in the Women’s Army Corps, one-fifth overseas, and they freed enough men for combat duty to constitute seven entire Divisions. Though officially barred from combat assignments, sixty-two still won the Legion of Merit, three the Air Medal, ten the Soldier’s Medal, sixteen the Purple Heart and five hundred and sixty-five the Bronze Star.

General MacArthur has referred to WACs as “my best soldiers,” and General Eisenhower said: “During the time I had WACs under my command they have met every test and task assigned to them … their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit and determination are immeasurable.” 

Now it appears that WACs will continue to serve their country as it meets whatever challenges the postwar era may bring.


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About

David Dismore is the archivist for the Feminist Majority Foundation. His journey from would-be weather forecaster to full-time feminist began with the powerful impression made by a photo and a few paragraphs about the suffragists in his high school history textbook; years later, he had his first encounter with NOW—in which he carefully peeked in a window before opening the door to be sure men were allowed. He was eventually active in the ERA extension campaign of 1978, embarked on a cross-country bikeathon for it in 1982 and even worked for pioneers Toni Carabillo and Judith Meuli.