A Piece of Women’s History in Record Group 498: “The WAC”

Today’s post is written by Lopez D. Matthews, Jr., an Archives Technician in the Holdings Management Division at Archives II.  Celebrate Women’s History Month and discover the the WAC!

WACs shipping out

WACs shipping out

The story of women in the military is one of strength and courage in the face of discrimination and doubt. Part of the story can be seen through propaganda pieces produced by the United States Government. During World War II, the United States Army published “The Story of the WAC in the ETO” found in Record Group 498, Records of the European Theater of Operations (ETO), United States Army (World War II) .

The photograph filled pamphlet details the many firsts of the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), their hard work and dedication. The women often did work that left them “unheralded and unsung” as they worked as clerks, switchboard operators, stenographers and secretaries.

They also performed more intense duties such as Lt. Lillian Kamphuis and Pfc. Elizabeth E. Armstrong who provided Photo Intelligence for the ETO. By spring of 1945, the women were driving army vehicles, “bossed” enemy female prisoners of war, and plotted emergency landings for lot and damaged aircraft.

Expressing his gratitude for the service of the WACs in WWII, General Dwight D. Eisenhower cabled to WAC Director Col. Oveta Culp Hobby saying:

“During the time I have had WACs under my command, they have met every test and task assigned them…their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination is immeasurable…”  

2011.03.14 WAC African-Americans

African-American WAC Unit handling the mail

With an eye toward diversity, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the first African American WAC unit to be sent overseas, are also featured in the booklet.  During their tour in February, 1945, the women broke all records for re-directing mail as they processed 130,000 pieces of mail a day.  

Moving beyond the battlefield, the pamphlet details the leisure time activities of the women to show that their lives were not all work and no play.

Cycling WACs

Cycling WACs

It described how many of the women attended dances at local camps and hospitals, visited local theaters and in London toured Parliament, Windsor Castle, Eton School, and Hampton Court among other sites. 

As war propaganda, this document went a long way toward improving the army’s reputation in discussing and handling female soldiers.

A WAC Unit doing a little boot cleaning

A WAC Unit doing a little boot cleaning

Although the pamphlet contains headlines that reveal more than a hint of sexism such as “Mud, Bombs, Work, Erase Glamor[sic]”, and “Paris – Paper work and Perfume,” the pamphlet marked a huge step forward in the military’s view of its female members. In the report, they note that the number of women joining the military had been dampened because of poor treatment and misuse of services.

This document is one of many interesting pieces of material found in Record Group 498.  It is a World War II aficionado’s dream-come-true!

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7 Responses to A Piece of Women’s History in Record Group 498: “The WAC”

  1. Susan Cummings says:

    What a great post! Thank you!

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  2. Jodi Foor says:

    An interesting subject and a nice example of NARA’s most interesting records.

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  3. Lisa says:

    “Photo Intelligence”???? There has to be an interesting story there.

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  4. Victoria Scarborough says:

    My Mom was a proud WAC, serving in the War Department’s Message Center at the Pentagon as a member of the 17th Signal Service Center during WWII. I keep looking for more info on WACs who served in these crucial roles. Thanks for acknowledging these women!

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  5. jocelyne says:

    Were could I find this document? Or a document about this? Thanks.

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  6. Sylvia Gibson says:

    Those WACs cleaning their boots, were my Mother’s friends. They all were part of the 12th Army Group and the only WACs that followed the men close to the front lines, living as the men did. She waded up onto Omaha after D-Day with Capt Moroney.

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