Who Could Join the WACs?

Requirements potential enlistees needed to meet to join WACs, 1943
Source: Who Could Join the WACs? (1943)

Based upon this description  in a1943 recruiting brochure, women were required to have at least two years of high school to enlist in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC)–though the high school requirement could be waived if a woman’s score on a Mental Alertness test indicated that she had “equivalent ability.”

I bet Aunt Marian was sweating that Mental Alertness test. According to the short biography of Aunt Marian that her sister Martha wrote, Aunt Marian only had an 8th grade education:

. . . She attended the Mountain Grove Country School–an elementary School. She did not attend high school. . .

 

35 thoughts on “Who Could Join the WACs?”

  1. A good friend of mine only has a grade 8 education. He used to be a street kid and was illiterate. But he taught himself to read and write and went on to found and lead an organization that helps homeless people. ❤
    Way to go Marian for having the courage to apply to the WACs
    Diana xo

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    1. I love it. I think that the number of years of schooling that people need to complete to get good jobs has really increased over the years. When my grandparents were young, many successful people only had a sixth- or eighth-grade education. When my parents were young, a high school diploma was generally needed to to get a good job. When I was young, a college degree was becoming important. . . and many young people now feel like they need a masters degree to get a reasonable job.

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        1. Sometimes I think that the huge student loans that young people have today limit the career risks that they are willing to take to the detriment of our communities. For example, few can afford to take low-paying public service jobs.

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  2. This was interesting…
    “A study4 of approximately 18,000 women at the training center at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, gave the following statistical information on motivation:

    * * * 35.03 percent * * * to satisfy their needs for masculine identification; 16 percent to fulfill a need for justification, guilt, or sacrifice; 16 percent * * * patriotic or service motive; 13 percent * * * escape the monotony of their civilian existence or unpleasant home situation; 8 percent * * * security or benefit themselves; 6 percent * * * hysterical and impulsive motives; and 4 percent * * * to be like other women, to justify the use of women in military service or through a maternal influence.

    It was found that neither emotional, practical, or intellectual motivation was a guarantee for success in the WAC. The healthier and more realistically motivated women were usually better adjusted and more efficient in their service. The greater the opportunity given for fulfillment of the motivation for enlistment the greater were the gains both personal and military.”

    http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwii/NeuropsychiatryinWWIIVolI/chapter15.htm

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      1. Exactly. . . I know that times have changed, but I still was surprised by how this research was framed. I also was surprised that the chapter was written by a women–I might have expected her to be a little more sensitive.

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    1. Thank you for finding this wonderful resource on the mental health of women in the WACs during WWII. I quickly skimmed the chapter and know that I will come back to it often as I work on future posts. One of the things that I hope to explore more is how women in the WACs were perceived by others–and how the media portrayed them.

      One of the things that I like about reading old publications is how hey really provide a good sense of the culture and what people believed at the time they were written.

      That said, I struggle with how women in the military were portrayed in this and other mid-20th century publications. I can’t even begin to imagine a researcher today conducting a study about what motivated women to join the WACs who would organize the findings into categories such as “to satisfy the need for masculine identification” and “hysterical and impulsive motives.”

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  3. Sometimes those who missed early education fought harder to become super achievers. My father was one of those – and my husband too. Your Aunt Marian is to be admired now for her inner drive, determination and success.

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    1. I also find the upper age limit surprising. I wonder if it was higher during World War II than what it was later. They probably needed lots of people in the military during the war.

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    1. In many ways it seems shocking. Even though people in the 1940s thought that it was progressive to allow women to join the military, it makes me realize how far women have come over the past 70 years or so.

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  4. I graduated from high school with an education fully as good as much coming out of college these days. To be quite frank, I probably was better educated than some with today’s advanced degrees. Granted, I didn’t have the advanced science and math skills, but in terms of being able to cope with the world, appreciate the world, and make a mark in the world? Perfectly capable.

    When we hear “8th grade education” we tend to imagine today’s eighth graders. But the equivalence just isn’t there. My father, with a high school diploma, rose to become a supervisor in the Industrial Engineering Department at Maytag. My mother, with a high school education, raised a family after her mother died when she was sixteen. An aunt, who quit after 9th grade, went on to a position of responsibility at a Chicago area radio station.

    I keep thinking about a quotation from Flannery O’Connor. “She had observed that the more education they got, the less they could do. Their father had gone to a one-room schoolhouse through the eighth grade and he could do anything.”

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    1. Your family has many wonderful examples of very successful people who didn’t have a lot of degrees. I think that knowledge and skills are so much more important than specific credentials, such as college degrees.

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  5. Back then high school as you probably know was not mandatory, my dad only had a 6th grade education, lied to get in the army in the 1930’s and then studied hard, got his degree and went on to get a college degree – my mother only had an 8th grade education also because her parents thought she would should be trained to become a wife and mother. But she was on smart cookie I can tell you. Also their schooling was so much different than today. My father had started to take geometry and algebra in 6th grade before he left to take care of his family (mother and sisters) that eventually his degree was in drafting – drawing up the plans that an architect designed, i think I got the term right, so yes our 8th grade today is vastly different from 8th grade back then. So it would not surprise that Aunt Marian passed to get in, also the WACC training was different then also, so age 49 would not surprise me. They did not have the physical training like they do now and they did not train on weapons (as far as I know). With todays training even if I was 30 I know I could not pass the basic training these young women have to endure to join the army!

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    1. It’s heartwarming to hear stories like this. it’s wonderful how your father was able to take advantage of the educational benefits that veterans qualified for, and become a highly educated person. I agree that schools and coursework were different back then. I’m often surprised by the relative difficulty of the content when I look at old textbooks.

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      1. Me too. I remember reading years ago that some school was doing renovations and found a time capsule. It was from various grades but the class work for 14 and 15 yr olds that were in there is what our college students are learning today – I was impressed.

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  6. It’s easy to forget how few people did have high school certificates at that time, but they all certainly had plenty of life experiences.

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    1. I agree! I know that many people of my parents’ generation who did not graduate from high school yet had wonderful, successful lives. . . and even when I was in high school a number of students dropped out, but everything has worked out fine for them.

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  7. That description sure makes you realize how times have changed. I love the simplicity of this. I don;t mean that the requirements were simple, but I like the lack of justification and specification.
    And Character must be excellent, of course 🙂

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    1. Of course . . . Character must be excellent. 🙂 Sometimes it’s scary when I read how much they worried about Character back then. Women have come a long way since then.

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