American Women and World War II
A Brief Overview
World War II was the largest and most violent armed conflict in the history of mankind. It was a war waged on land, sea, and in the air over several diverse theaters of operation for approximately six years. The role women played was undeniably paramount to our success. ("army" intro).
More than 60,000 Army nurses served stateside and overseas during WWII. Sixty-seven Army nurses were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 and were held as POWs for over two and a half years. The Army established a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which was converted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) were organized and flew as civil service pilots. WASPs flew stateside missions as ferriers, test pilots, and anti-aircraft artillery trainers. More than 14,000 Navy nurses served stateside, overseas on hospital ships and as flight nurses during the war. Five Navy nurses were captured by the Japanese on the island of Guam and were held as POWs for five months before being exchanged. A second group of eleven Navy nurses captured in the Philippines were held for 37 months. The Navy recruited women into its Navy Women's Service (WAVES) starting in 1942. Before the war was over, more than 80,000 WAVES filled shore billets in a large variety of jobs in communications, intelligence, supply, medicine and administration.
The Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943. Marine women served stateside as clerks, cooks, mechanics, drivers, and in a variety of other positions. The Coast Guard established their Women's Reserve known as the SPARs (after the motto Semper Paratus- Always Ready) in 1942. SPARs were assigned stateside and served as storekeepers, clerks, photographers, pharmacist's mates, cooks and in numerous other jobs. The Cadet Nurse Corps, established in 1943, trained some 125,000 women for possible military service.
More than 400,000 American military women served at home and overseas in nearly all noncombat jobs (as compared to WWI: 33,000; Korea: 50,000; Vietnam [in theatre]: 7,000; Desert Storm [deployed]: 41,000). As the country demobilized, all but a few servicewomen were mustered out, even though the United States, now a world power, was forced to maintain the largest peacetime military in the history of the nation. (Foundation).
Many studies of women's roles in WWII have circulated however, none have succinctly captured the essence of the invaluable services provided by these brave and courageous women. The information on the linked pages was extracted from an account written by Judith A. Bellafaire of the US Army Center of Military History that does just that. ("army" 1-16).
To find out more about women in the military, click below.
- WAAC: Women Auxiliary Army Corps
- WAC: Women Army Corps
- WAC Overseas
- WASP: Women Auxiliary Services Supply
For personal experiences of NJ women during WWII, click on a name below to hear and read a bit of their stories.
To find out more about women on the homefront, click below.
Click here for a brief summary on "Women and WWII."