Charity Edna Adams Earley was the first African American woman to be an officer in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later WACS) and was the commanding officer of the first battalion of African American women to serve overseas during WWII.
Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of the United States, representing the American women who worked in factories during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who were in the military.
Women in the War Effort
In all, 350,000 American women served in the U.S. military during World War II. World War II also marked racial milestones for women in the military such as Carmen Contreras-Bozak, the first Hispanic to join the WAC, and Minnie Spotted-Wolf, the first Native American woman to enlist in the Marines.
Women in the Army
During World War II, more than 60,000 Army nurses (military nurses were all women at the time) served stateside and overseas. They were kept far from combat, but 67 were captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942 and held as prisoners of war. In 1943 Dr. Margaret Craighill became the first female doctor to become a commissioned officer in the United States Army Medical Corps. In 1943, the U.S. Public Health Service established the Cadet Nurse Corps which trained some 125,000 women for possible military service.
The Army established the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in 1942, which served overseas in North Africa. The WAAC was converted to the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in 1943 and recognized as an official part of the regular Army. More than 150,000 women served as WACs during the war, and thousands were sent to the European and Pacific theaters.
In 1945 the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (the only all African-American, all-female battalion during World War II) worked in England and France, making them the first black female battalion to travel overseas. The battalion was commanded by MAJ Charity Adams Earley, and was composed of 30 officers and 800 enlisted women. For the most part, Army reflected a segregation policy, and basic training was segregated for training, living, and dining. A total of 6,520 African-American women served during the war.
Women in the Air Force
Asian-Pacific-American women first entered military service during World War II. The WAC recruited 50 Japanese- and Chinese-American women, training them as military translators, where they worked with captured Japanese documents to extract military plans or political and economic information. Other WAC translators were assigned jobs helping the U.S. Army interface with our Chinese allies. In 1943, the Women's Army Corps recruited a unit of Chinese-American women to serve with the Army Air Forces as "Air WACs. " The first two women to enlist in the unit were Hazel (Toy) Nakashima and Jit Wong. Air WACs served in a large variety of jobs, including aerial photo interpretation, air traffic control, and weather forecasting.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), created in 1943, were civilians who flew stateside missions chiefly to ferry planes when male pilots were in short supply. They were the first women to fly American military aircraft. The WASP was disbanded in 1944 when enough male veterans were available.
Women in the Navy
More than 14,000 navy nurses served stateside, overseas on hospital ships, and as flight nurses during the war. The navy also recruited women into its Navy Women's Reserve, called Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), starting in 1942. Women worked in a large variety of jobs in communications, intelligence, supply, medicine, and administration. The navy refused to accept Japanese-American women throughout World War II.
Women in the Marines
The Marine Corps created the Marine Corps Women's Reserve in 1943. Captain Anne Lentz was its first commissioned officer and Private Lucille McClarren its first enlisted woman; the first detachment of female marines was sent to Hawaii for duty in 1945. Marine women served stateside as clerks, cooks, mechanics, drivers, and in a variety of other positions. By the end of World War II, 85% of the enlisted personnel assigned to Headquarters U.S. Marine Corps were women.
Women in the Coast Guard
In 1941 the first civilian women were hired by the Coast Guard to serve in secretarial and clerical positions. In 1942 the Coast Guard established their Women's Reserve known as the SPARs (after the motto Semper Paratus - Always Ready); more than 11,000 SPARs served during World War II.
U.S. Women on the Home Front
U.S. women also performed many kinds of non-military service in organizations such as the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), American Red Cross, and the United Service Organizations (USO). Nineteen million American women filled out the home front labor force, not only as "Rosie the Riveters" in war factory jobs, but in transportation, agricultural, and office work of every variety. Women joined the federal government in massive numbers; nearly a million "government girls" were recruited for war work. Women volunteers aided the war effort by planting victory gardens, canning produce, selling war bonds, donating blood, and salvaging needed commodities. Although at first, most Americans were reluctant to allow women into traditionally male jobs, women proved that they could not only do the job but in some instances they did it better than their male counterparts.