Source: United States Army in World War II: The Women’s Army Corps by Mattie Treadwell (Published by the Department of the Army in 1954)
Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words–
Whew, Times have changed since the 1940s. Woman’s cloths back then could be so limiting (though they obviously didn’t totally prevent WACs from doing rigorous physical activities during boot camp).
Aunt Marian went to Fort Oglethorpe for boot camp. This photo was taken at another base, but it gives clues about what her boot camp experience would have been like.
I remembered seeing this picture when Shore Acres wrote a comment several days ago that included a link to an absolutely incredible video showing WACs at Fort Oglethorpe wearing dresses while practicing judo. Be sure to take a look at it.
Aunt Marian lived the first 45 years of her life in central and northern Pennsylvania. When she enlisted in the WACs she was living with her sister Ruth in northern Pennsylvania at Lawrenceville. After her enlistment she headed south to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia for basic training.
Aunt Marian had lived with her parents on the family farm near Montgomery Pennsylvania for most of her life. The executrix’s notice that was posted in the paper a year or so before this clipping indicated that Aunt Marian lived in Antes Fort after her father’s death (with a different sister—Martha). She apparently had moved from the home of one sister to the home of one sister to the home of another prior to enlisting.
Fort Oglethorpe is located in the northwestern corner of Georgia near Chattanooga Tennessee. I think that trains generally transported troops during World War II, so Aunt Marian probably took a train the 800 miles or so from Pennsylvania to Georgia.
Was this the furthest Aunt Marian had ever been from her home state? Was she excited? . . . scared? . . . a little of both?
The National Archives has an online database that contains World War II Enlistment Records. I found Aunt Marian’s records and discovered that she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) at Elmira, New York.
Aunt Marian probably lived with several of her sisters after her father died. She was the executrix of the estate and the newspaper notice listed her address as Antes Fort (Lycoming County), Pennsylvania, which is where her sister Martha lived.
She apparently later moved from Lycoming County to the home of her youngest sister Ruth in the northern Pennsylvania town of Lawrenceville (Tioga County). According to Wikipedia, about 450 people lived in Lawrenceville at that time.
The nearest enlistment center to Lawrenceville probably was across the state border in Elmira, New York.
A mystery has emerged. Did Aunt Marian attend high school?
My previous post described the requirements that women had to meet to join the WACs. One of the requirements was two years of high school, but it could be waived if a woman did well on a Mental Alertness test. In that post I described how her sister Martha wrote a brief biography of Aunt Marian which said that Marian didn’t attend high school:
She attended the Mountain Grove Country School–an elementary School. She did not attend high school.
Yet the enlistment record indicates that Aunt Marian attended high school for two years.
Was her sister wrong? Did Aunt Marian actually attend high school?. . . .or did Aunt Marian lie on the enlistment form to increase the likelihood that she’d qualify to be a WAC? . . . or were the enlistment records of women who did well on the mental alertness test altered to indicate that they attended high school even if they hadn’t?
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. . .
I know so little about Aunt Marian—and to even begin to understand who she was, what she thought, and what her personality was like– I need to understand why she joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) during World War II. . . . Was it a search for adventure? . . . patriotism? . . . economic reasons? . . .
I’ve found several published diaries and oral histories of women who wanted to join the WACs during WWII. Here are some of their reasons:
Most able-bodies men were already in the armed forces. . . . And, there was a lot of just plane datelessness. . . Armed forces recruitment aimed at women—posters and speeches—became more noticeable, and there was pressure to do something specific for the war effort. The pitch was that a woman working at certain “safe” jobs in the services could release a man for active fighting. I think it was a combination of patriotism, idealism, and the urge for adventure that got me seriously considering joining one of the services.
Anne Bosanko Green (One Woman’s War: Letters Home from the Women’s Army Corps 1944-1946, published 1989)
I worked as a sales clerk at S.H. Kress. The hours were long and the work was hard, but a fascinating world opened to me. Everybody came to the five-and-dime store I saw boys who I had known at school who had joined the army, looking much improved because of their neat uniforms and newly-disciplined life. . . After more than three years at Kress, I felt a discontent that my life had not changed along with all these changes around me. I wanted to make sacrifices to help my country. . . I gave up my job with Kress and spent a year as a Civil Service employee, becoming more and more aware of women in the military. I realized becoming a WAC would enable me to make a contribution to the war effort while receiving some financial compensation at the same time.
Aileen Kilgore Henderson (Stateside Soldier: Life in the Women’s Army Corps, 1944-1945, published 2001)
I think I made $10 a week and I worked every night after school. This was during the Depression and everyone was poor. . .World War II. I think that probably it gave me more opportunities to do more. It’s a terrible thing to say that a war does that, but I wonder if I would ever really have left Narragansett and done what I did, which was the best thing I ever did in my life.
Each woman was in a different situation, and had her own unique reasons for wanting to join the WACs, but their reasons give me clues to the things Aunt Marian may have considered when she made her decision to join.
As I sort through Aunt Marian’s memorabilia and artifacts, I keep asking myself, “Why did she join the Women’s Army Corps (WACs)?”
Good grief, Aunt Marian was in her 40s—and had lived her entire life in rural central Pennsylvania. She lived with her parents and helped on the farm until her father died in 1943.
Aunt Marian had 8 living brothers and sisters when her father died, so she probably needed to find another home and job.
She was a woman with an 8th grade education—and it seems like the typical jobs for a middle-aged woman with her background would have been working in a factory or as a store clerk. But it was the middle of World War II—and recruiting ads like this this one may have motivated her to enlist.
Marian Solomon's midlife transition from the farm to the Women's Army Corps (WACs)