Among the items of Aunt Marian’s that I found in my parent’s attic was a small booklet published by the Miller Brothers Company department store in Chattanooga. The booklet apparently was given to new WACs who were in basic training at nearby Fort Oglethorpe. It describes the store and the general area, and includes some blank pages at the back.
I was amazed that the first few pages of this book don’t describe the various departments in the store, but rather focus on personal shoppers, a mailing room (the women must have wanted to mail gifts home to family and friends), and food.
There are more pages–I’ll share a few of them in future posts.
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.
What did Aunt Marian do and think during her first day of basic training at Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia?
Unfortunately I don ‘t have any letters or journals that record her thoughts, but here’s what another WAC named Aileen Kilgore Henderson wrote about her train trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee which is just across the state line from Fort Oglethorpe—and her first day or so there.
. . . arriving in Chattanooga about seven last night. Ate an elegant supper in the train diner—ham again, thick and tender! We recruits had a U.S. check for ours, but the WAC private chaperoning us had to pay for hers. But the guy in charge of the diner refused—he said her dinner was on the Railroad.
So here I am at Fort Oglethorpe. . . . Half an hour from now recruits assigned to Beds#11 through #20 are ordered to scrub, dust, polish, shine windows, and otherwise clean up the Orderly Room.
Any minute we’re expecting the fire drill whistle to blow. Last night’s drill unsettled us quite a bit. Another unsettling thing was the steady stream of new girls arriving in the night, stomping through the dark to find their beds.
I got this diary entry out of a book called Stateside Soldier: Life in the Women’s Army Corps 1944-1945 that was published in 2001 by the University of South Carolina press. The book contained the diary of Aileen Kilgore Henderson, who was in the WACs during World War II.
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. . .
Marian Solomon's midlife transition from the farm to the Women's Army Corps (WACs)