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Editorial Note on Women’s Auxiliary
Women as individuals and as organized groups made known to the War Department their desire to participate in the military mobilization. Their services had been found necessary during 1917-18 both at home and abroad, although the context within which they had to operate was poorly organized and coordinated. The General Staff did not undertake to study this problem seriously until early 1941, by which time the tone of official statements had become more accepting of the possibility of extensive use of women.
Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts visited Marshall during the early spring of 1941 and told him that she was going to introduce a bill to establish a corps of 25,000 women to fill professional, technical, and service positions in the army. The chief of staff asked for time to study the issue and set his G-1 staff to work drafting a bill that the army could support. To emphasize that the women were to serve with but not in the army, the Personnel Division endeavored to write a bill that made the distinctions of duty, rank, and privilege between the army and the proposed women’s auxiliary as great as possible. Rogers introduced H.R. 4906 (“A Bill to Establish a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps for Service with the Army of the United States”) on May 28, 1941, but it remained for months in the Military Affairs Committee without hearings. (Mattie E. Treadwell, The Women’s Army Corps, a volume in the United States Army in World War II [Washington: GPO, 1954], pp. 16-20.)
Reporting on the W.A.A.C. bill, the War Department’s Budget and Legislative Planning Branch observed that “this Branch understands that the Chief of Staff has informally approved the proposed legislation, and therefore makes no comment.” (Memorandum for the Deputy Chief of Staff, June 18, 1941, NA/RG 407 [General, 291.9 (6-2-41) sec. 1, pt. 1].) Lieutenant Colonel John H. Hilldring, at this time assigned to G-1, later recalled that by the summer of 1941 Marshall was worried about the possibility of future manpower shortages; he also thought it inefficient for the army to attempt to train men for specialties like typist or telephone operator that women had taken over in civil life. Finally, he was impressed by women’s desire to serve. While there was no immediate need to incorporate large numbers of women into the army, Marshall wanted to be prepared for immediate action should the need arise. (Treadwell, Women’s Army Corps, p. 20.) The Bureau of the Budget was not impressed with the need for the bill, however, and in a letter dated October 7 it notified the War Department that enactment of the bill would not be “considered as being in accord with the program of the President.” (John B. Blandford, Jr., to the Secretary of War, October 7, 1941, NA/RG 407 [General, 291.9 (6-2-41) sec. 1, pt. 1].)
Marshall may have received this letter shortly before delivering the following informal address to a group of twenty or thirty presidents of national women’s organizations. The meeting had been arranged by Oveta Culp Hobby, co-publisher of the Houston Post, who had taken what she presumed to be the short-term position as chief of the War Department’s Women’s Interests Section in the Planning and Liaison Branch of the Bureau of Public Relations. She suggested that the chief of staff talk to the women as the mothers of soldiers, fearful of what was happening to their sons and lacking accurate information on military life, and assure them that their boys were being adequately fed, clothed, and sheltered. (Hobby Memorandum for Major W. T. Sexton, October 7, 1941, GCMRL/G. C. Mar shall Papers [Pentagon Office, General].) Instead, Marshall chose to talk about discipline, a term and concept that he had learned confused and disturbed civilians.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 641-642.