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Women in the Military - WWII: Overview

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A Woman's War Too: U.S. Women in the Military in WWIIedited by Paula Nassen Poulos.
Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1996.
MNHS call number: D810 .W7 W65 1996

Women’s Army Corps Papers, 1942-1948.
Correspondence (1942-1948), clippings (1944-1945), photographs (1944-1945), military insignia and ribbons (1944-1945), military song books (1944-1945), and Air Force-issued guides and other printed materials (1944-1945) documenting a Minnesota woman’s service in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II.
MNHS call number: P2845

Geraldine Barry Scrapbook, 1942-1979.
Scrapbook containing photos, military service orders, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia documenting Barry’s career as an officer in the Women’s Army Corps from 1942 to 1961.
MNHS call number: P1502

Virginia Mae Hope Papers.
Virginia ("Ginny") Mae Hope flew airplanes for the Army Air Force's Weather Wing out of Patterson Field (Fairfield, Ohio) in 1943-1944. The collection includes clippings, orders, letters, photographs and memorabilia, flight training information from the 318th Army Air Corps Ferry Training Command at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, student-pilot rating books, and her flight log from 1941-1944.
Images of some of her material: Cockpit Procedures for a PT 19A; the December 16, 1944, letter from Colonel W.O. Senter to Virginia's parents notifying them of her death; and the Minnesota listings and memorial listing from the 1945.
MNHS call number: Digital Finding Aid

"Private Bosanko Goes to Basic: A Minnesota Woman in World War II," by Anne Bosanko Green.
In Minnesota History, vol. 51, no. 7 (fall 1989), pages 246-258.
MNHS call number: Digital copy of the article.

Overview

Women have served in military conflicts since the American Revolution, but World War II was the first time that women served in the United States military in an official capacity. Although women traditionally were excluded from military service and their participation in the Armed Forces was not promoted at the outset of World War II, it soon became apparent that their participation was necessary to win the war. 

Beginning in December 1941, 350,000 women served in the United States Armed Forces, during WWII. They had their own branches of services, including:

  • Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (later the Women's Army Corps or WAC),
  • the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and
  • the Women Accepted for Volunteer Military Services (WAVES).

Women also served in the Marines and in a branch of the Coast Guard called SPARS.

About seventy percent of women who served in the military during World War II held traditionally "female" jobs. They worked as typists, clerks, and mail sorters. Although these jobs may have been less glorified that those of the men fighting on the front lines, women were essential in maintaining the bureaucratic mechanisms that are necessary in warfare. Also, by filling office jobs that would otherwise be held by men, women freed more men to fight. Women were not permitted to participate in armed conflict but their duties often brought them close to the front lines. One way that women participated in dangerous work was through their work in the Army and Navy medical corps.

Several Minnesota women made great contributions to the U.S. war effort during World War II. 15 Minnesota women participated in WASPS. Pearl Gullickson from Donnely, Minnesota, served in the Coast Guard as a SPAR. Anne Bosanko Green took time off from her studies at the University of Minnesota and joined the WAC where she worked in a hospital as a surgical assistant. 

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