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African American Women in the Military and at War

The Library of Congress has a rich collection of materials related to the history of African American women and the military. This research guide lists resources such as books, digital collections, and primary sources to learn more about their history

Introduction

First Negro nurses land in England" twenty-four of the first contingent of Negro nurses assigned to the European Theater of Operations. 1944. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Women were not given full military status until World War II (WWII), with the establishment of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) by act of Congress in 1942. Later renamed the Women's Army Corps (WAC) the WAC was headed by Oveta Culp Hobby of Texas, who later became the second woman to serve as a cabinet secretary, serving under President Eisenhower of what is now the Department of Health and Human Services. There was also the Navy’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES), the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve (known as SPARS, Semper Paratus-Always Ready), and the Women Air Force Service Pilots (WASPS) that all contributed immensely in various ways to the war effort. Through the efforts of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) and other organization and leaders African American women were eventually enabled to enlist and work in the military. The WAC and the Army Nurse Corps admitted blacks in 1942 but segregated them. The Navy’s WAVES did not enlist African Americans until 1944 and the Coast Guard SPARS followed suit. The Navy Nurse Corps did not integrate until 1945.

While this guide has more materials related to WWII, it expands its focus to encompass African American women pre-WWII and African American women in the larger context of women in the military. The Library of Congress has a large collection of materials on this topic, and includes newspaper articles, books, dissertations, technical reports, photographs and first person accounts. This bibliography includes only a sampling of the materials available at the Library of Congress. The works explore biographical materials, as well as the cultural and social aspects of African American women in the military. An attempt has been made to include significant chapters in books and dissertations, as well as internet resources which may be freely available.

For broader resources and searching strategy for general materials on African Americans see African American History Online: A Resource Guide.