Henderson Hall, Women’s Marines Barracks, Arlington, VA. The Women’s Marines fell under Navy jurisdiction during the war, but had different leadership and uniforms than the WAVES. They did at times train at the same facilities.
As you know, my mother was a WAVE during World War II – and it was her story which inspired this project. And the WAVES were truly trailblazers during the war. This blog is called “Hinges of History” to recognize that contribution. The WAVES were the first women admitted into the service at the same rank and pay as men. And it wasn’t just the service – women during that era generally were paid less than men, under the rationale that they didn’t need the money as much because men were supporting families and women were “only” supporting themselves. So for the Navy to pay women the same amount for the same work was pretty groundbreaking.
But the WAVES weren’t the only ones forging new territory during the war. Inside of the military, the Army WAACs (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, later Women’s Army Corps) were the first women other than nurses to travel overseas in troops with men.
The WASP (Women’s Air Service Pilots) were the first women to regularly fly planes, mostly ferrying planes in the continental United States from one side of the country to another. They weren’t “in” the service, but had the same risks as male pilots: 38 WASPs died while flying for their country.
Of course, there were also the Women Marines (about 20,000 during World War II) and the SPARs (Coast Guard women, about 12,000 served; their name comes from the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus, Always Ready). And we can’t ignore the contributions of the “Rosie the Riveters,” millions of women who entered the workforce during the war to take jobs on assembly lines and in other formerly-male jobs. Before World War II about 12 million women were in the workforce. By the end of the war, that number had swelled to 18 million, a full third of the workforce, and three million of those were “Rosies.”
While historians are divided about the lasting contributions of these women, those who served in both civilian and military jobs believed their work mattered. They were the “hinge”: without their contributions the world wouldn’t have changed in the same way. Without them, our world would be a different place.
Our friends at the National Women’s History Museum seem to be on the same wavelength this week. They put together a fabulous video series about women who blazed a trail for those who followed – and those who are dedicated to keeping those histories alive. Part One is embedded below (see Part Two and Part Three on their YouTube channel).
Thank you, this Thanksgiving eve, to the National Women’s History Museum and everyone else who is honoring the trailblazers in women’s history! And, of course, thank you to the trailblazers!