Officers of Staff

The main officers of staff at the Women’s Reserves Officer Naval Training School, Smith College, Northampton, MA. They are (left to right): Lt. Bonnie Stewart, Lt. Cmdr. Wilson McCandless, Lt. Elizabeth Crandall, Captain Herbert Underwood and Lt. Cmdr. Philip Baker.

The photograph comes from the National Archives.

Hunter College: Living Quarters

Hunter College was primarily a commuter college; there weren’t any dorms on the campus grounds. The Navy needed housing for 8,000-10,000 women at a time (plus instructors), so it turned to the Bronx neighborhood for help. Apartments surrounding the campus were commandeered by the Navy for the duration of the war.

An article in the New York Times talked about this development:

While … merchants on Kingsbridge Road, the nearest shopping center, all claimed their businesses would suffer, none complained.  Businessman Max Steubens, who ran a self-serve market, depended on the 13 apartments for most of his business, but when interviewed said, “I’m more than willing to do my share toward the war effort” (1.13.43) A few days after this, complaints arose because nearby apartments were raising rent for the occasion. The situation was investigated and The New York Times made sure to note that, “The complaints they received were logical and natural and not at all unpatriotic” (1.14.43)

This photograph comes from a postcard booklet designed for WAVES recruits to send it home to their parents, families and friends. It shows the converted apartments, where women lived 8-10 to a one bedroom unit.  It is from the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

“Not Going to Make It”

SPARs, the Coast Guard women, had similar training as WAVES.  SPAR Dorothy Riley Dempsey remembers the physical training as being extremely taxing.

We were not prepared for boot camp. We had to jump through the tires, you know. Then the next thing we had to do was we had to scale a wall.  We couldn’t do it.  I said to the girl in back of me, “Quinn, push, because I’ll never get over that wall.”

There was a big rope and it had a knot on it.  And there was a pit with mud here.  We had to back up and jump and my friend Quinn who was with me, I said, “Quinn, I’m never going to make that pit.”  And she said, “Neither am I.”  So we sneaked over to another line. We never had to go over it.  We didn’t get caught.  I said, “If we’re caught, we’re out. They’ll get rid of us.”

The photo comes from a Navy post card set produced about the Hunter College boot camp. It’s from the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

WAVES Do Swim!

One of the rumors swirling about the military women was the various qualifications they’d need in order to join the different branches. Since the WAVES’ name evoked water, and the WAVES were part of the Navy, one rumor about the WAVES was that a woman had to know how to swim in order to join. Some members of the Women’s Army Corps even now say they didn’t join the WAVES in World War II because they couldn’t swim!

The rumor was false; a woman didn’t have to be a swimmer to join the WAVES.  But swimming was one of the activities women could do to keep in shape.

These WAVES are swimming in the pool at Yeoman Training School at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, circa March 1943. The photograph can be found in the National Archives.

Special Recommendation

The first class of WAVES officers were gathered on special recommendation from people who knew the women who would serve. This was done to make sure that the Navy had women in command who were, in essence, a “known” quantity: women who held certain values, were smart, driven, and would represent the Navy well.

Franny Prindle was one of those women. This is the letter she received from WAVES’ leader Mildred McAfee, inviting her to become a WAVE officer in August of 1942. Prindle was recommended by Vassar College Dean Mildred Thompson, a woman McAfee knew personally from her tenure as dean of Wellesley College.

Prindle returned the application and was a member of the first WAVE officer training class at Smith College. She remained at Smith for the duration of the war, training other officers.

Why We Fight

The U.S. National Film Registry announced its latest selections late yesterday, and included on the list is a World War II-era documentary propaganda classic. The film is called The Negro Soldier. It follows soldiers from pre-enlistment through basic training.

What was remarkable about the film wasn’t that it included African American soldiers in training (though that was indeed unusual at the time). But what was really incredible is that the filmmakers were specifically instructed to avoid Hollywood stereotypes about African Americans. So the men featured were shown coming from a variety of jobs (lawyers, musicians, athletes). According to film historians Thomas Cripps and James Culbert, the cautions included to:

Avoid stereotypes such as the Negroes’ alleged affinity for watermelon or pork; also avoid strong images of racial identity (‘play down colored soldiers more Negroid in appearance’ and omit ‘Lincoln, emancipation, or any race leaders or friends of the Negro’).

While initially intended for African American military audiences, people who saw the film thought the film should be shown to African American and white audiences, civilian and military, a response which surprised the filmmakers.

The Negro Soldier was directed by Frank Capra, who also directed the famous “Why We Fight” series of propaganda films (1942-1945). These films were designed to raise morale in the U.S. film audience and help people understand the complexities of the war. Capra began working on the films shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Capra saw them as the American answer to German filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl’s powerful Triumph of the Will. He used footage mostly produced by the U.S. Office of War Information to craft his seven-film series.

The first film in the “Why We Fight” series, 1942′s Prelude to War, won the Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary in 1943.  The “Why We Fight” series became part of the National Film Registry in 2000. With the addition of The Negro Soldier, this means that another important part of World War II-era domestic propaganda will be restored and preserved in the Library of Congress for future generations.

World War II women didn’t get the Capra treatment. However, this OWI film Glamour Girls of 1943 does show how the government was trying to get women to participate in the war effort as well.

What We’re Thankful For, Part I – The Four Freedoms

In January of 1941, months before the United States would become officially involved in World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt gave one of his radio addresses.

Roosevelt was an innovator in using mass media to help bring his message to the public. His speech about the banking crises in 1933 was the first time a President had used the power of the radio to speak directly to the American public (in this case to attempt to stop the bank runs which nearly destroyed the nation’s economic system in 1933).  That speech would lay the groundwork for the Fireside Chats, 31 radio addresses on a variety of topics, ranging from the New Deal to the War in Europe.

The Four Freedoms speech wasn’t one of those Fireside Chats. It was the official State of the Union Address for 1941. But it nonetheless illustrates Roosevelt’s skill at using the public airwaves to speak to the American public:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms…That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb. To that new order we oppose the greater conception—the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.

Roosevelt included two Constitutionally-mandated freedoms (Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Worship) in his speech, and then added two freedoms which he said should be a part of the social contract we have with our fellow Americans. Freedom from Want means that Americans shouldn’t go hungry or be without basic human needs (food, shelter, etc.) – and that a modern society had a responsibility to provide for those in need.  Freedom from Fear means that we should live in a country where we don’t have to worry about our safety. Roosevelt went on to say that these weren’t just American values, but should be values available to everyone in the world.

The Four Freedoms would later be illustrated by Norman Rockwell in a series of drawings for the Saturday Evening Post.

The Four Freedoms wasn’t a Thanksgiving speech, but nonetheless we’re thankful this time of year for Roosevelt and his identification of the Four Freedoms.

Boot Camp and Beyond

In the spring of 1943 Hunter College in the Bronx, N.Y. (now Lehman College), opened a WAVES training school.  Women were sent here for boot camp where they learned things like Naval history and marching.  They also took placement tests to find out which Navy jobs best suited their skills.

Homefront Heroines is experimenting with a new model of storytelling. We’re creating exhibits geotagged with the location of various locations important to the WAVES, like Hunter College, its buildings and surrounding apartments, with TagWhat –  as discussed in this previous post.  The posts will include video footage, interviews and interesting stories about the WAVES.

Irene Bendnekoff is one of the women we’re featuring:

So what does this mean? Check out the full exhibit here, or download the TagWhat app on your smartphone, head to the Bronx. The exhibit will pop up on your phone – you can see the WAVES’ story while your at a location important to the WAVES!  We love this method of storytelling and would love to know what you think.

Learn about the placement process, training facilities, and hear the stories of many of these WAVES in this Specialty Training exhibit.