Many Americans opposed the idea of women in military service in non-nursing jobs. But following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Congress authorized women to serve with the U.S. Army, Navy, and Coast Guard in 1942, and the Marines in 1943 for the duration of the emergency plus six months. More than 400,000 women served, 432 died, and 88 were prisoners of war.

Donna Mae Baldenecker, first WAAC bugler,
Fort Des Moines, Iowa.
Credit: Women’s Memorial Foundation

WAC Private First Class Rose Salute,
Harlingen Army Air Field, Harlingen, Texas.
Credit:  Women’s Memorial Foundation

Women were initially barred from supervisory positions, jobs requiring physical strength, or work in conditions "improper for women." But as the first recruits proved their worth, the Army tried to enlist as many as 1.5 million women. These ambitious recruiting goals were never met despite an intensive public education program to prove to a skeptical public that servicewomen were pretty, feminine, capable, and absolutely necessary to help the men and the nation win the war.

WAVES recruiting poster, "It’s a Woman’s War Too!
Join the WAVES"by John Falter, USNR, 1942
Credit: Library of Congress

9th Company, 3rd Regiment, 73rd Basic Company,
First WAC Training Center, Fort Des Moines, Iowa
Credit: Women’s Memorial Foundation

WAVES in formation on the grounds
of the Washington Monument
Credit: Women’s Memorial Foundation

WAC recruiting poster, "Woman’s Place in War-The Army of the United States has 239 kinds of jobs for women"
Credit:  National Archives


Army nurses attached to the Army Air Corps bivouac in Hawaii
as part of training for combat areas, circa 1945.
Credit: US Army Museum of Hawaii

Hawaii’s WACs review infantry troops parading in
their honor, Hawaii, 3 January 1945.
Credit:  US Army Museum of Hawaii