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. . .
How does someone decide what is important enough to save over the years? I’m still trying to figure out what Aunt Marian was like. I found this typewritten poem on the back of an index card in the trunk with Aunt Marian’s items that I found in my parent’s attic.
I googled Around the Cornerand found that the poem was written by Charles Hanson Towne (1877-1949). He was an author and editor, and edited various magazines across the years including Smart Set, Delineator, McClure’s, Designer, and Harper’s Bazaar.
Why did this poem resonate with Aunt Marian? Did she know soldiers who had been killed in World War II? Did she put the poem on the index card before or after she joined the Women’s’ Army Corps (WACs)?
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.
One of the items of Aunt Marian’s that I found when cleaning out my parent’s attic was a very worn hand-written cookbook. Many of the recipes indicate who gave Aunt Marian the recipe—or who in the family particularly liked the recipe.
I’ll never know for sure when Aunt Marian compiled the recipes, but I’m guessing that she did it when she joined the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) in 1944 shortly after her father’s death. She probably wanted to consolidate family favorites into a compact book that would preserve family cooking memories as she moved onward to the next stage of her life.
Here’s her recipe for Papa’s Favorite Cookies. They’re an old-fashioned sour cream cookie. Somehow the cookie name seems like a lovely tribute by Aunt Marian to her father.
The handwritten recipe is a bit sparse on details. Here’s how I made the cookies:
Papa’s Favorite Cookies (Sour Cream Cookies)
1/2 cup melted butter 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon baking soda 3/4 teaspoon salt ¾ teaspoon vanilla 1 cup sour cream 3 eggs 3 1/2 cups flour (approximate)
Preheat oven to 375.° Stir together butter and sugar. Add baking soda, salt, vanilla, sour cream, and eggs; stir. Add enough flour to make a soft dough (I used approximately 3 1/2 cups); stir until well-mixed.
Roll out dough, cut into circles or other desired shape, and put onto greased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until set and lightly browned.
Yield: Approximately 7 dozen cookies
The sumptuous cookies had a wonderful, old-fashioned texture and taste. They were softer than many modern cookies, and. had a very delicate, sweet-sour undertone. This recipe is a keeper.
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.
Aunt Marian spent almost 20 years in the Women’s Army Corps—from late 1944 to early 1964.
The WAC evolved across the years–and it was disbanded in 1978, when the male and female units of the army were integrated–, but this description of the WACs in a 1944 recruiting publication called 73 Questions and Answers About the WAC provides a nice description of the organization she joined.
Marian Solomon's midlife transition from the farm to the Women's Army Corps (WACs)