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American Women: Resources from the Manuscript Collections

World War II

Photographer unknown. Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Third Platoon, Company 1, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Circa August or September 1942. 36

In many respects, World War II marked the watershed of women's participation in the United States military. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC)—later the Women's Army Corps (WAC)—was established in May 1942. Two months later, the Navy began recruiting women into its Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service (WAVES). Women also entered the U.S. Marines and Coast Guard, and women pilots became members of the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service (WAFS) and the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).34

Before becoming a state legislator and first secretary of health, education, and welfare, Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) was a United States army colonel and the director of the Women's Army Corps during World War II. Correspondence, photographs, and printed matter (2,200 items; 1941-52) document her career with the War Department and the mobilization of American women for military service. Correspondence with Hobby may also be found in the papers of high-ranking Air Force officer and aviation pioneer Ira Eaker (77,300 items; 1918-89; bulk 1942-82), who supported the training of women pilots; who successfully lobbied Hobby and his superiors for a WAC Company to be assigned to his command, first in England and later near the front in Italy; and, who, despite his own reservations, put before his commanders the request of Dixie Tighe, a woman war correspondent who wanted to go on a bomber mission as her male counterparts had. Of the WACs in Italy, Eaker wrote of their “superb” work habits, suggesting that “one girl is worth three men,” and raved that despite “extremely unpleasant conditions . . . this little group of American girls is exhibiting the best and most cheerful type of morale of any soldiers I have ever seen.”35

Rilma Oxley Buckman (1915-2015) wrote about her work as American Red Cross club director with the 11th Airborne Division, U.S. Army, and as assistant social welfare officer with the 8th Army, U.S. Army, during the Allied military occupation of Japan following World War II in correspondence home to her parents. Her papers (1, 575 items and 1 digital file; 1885-2015; bulk 1945-2001) also document her work for the Federation of Community Planning in Cleveland, Ohio; a 1950 journey through western Canada and Alaska on the Alaska Highway, also known as the Alaska-Canadian or Alcan Highway; and her activism against the Vietnam War including her arrest at a Pentagon protest in 1969.

As part of the American Folklife Center's Veterans History Project, the Library is collecting letters, diaries, and oral history interviews of women who served in the military and on the home front during this country's twentieth-century wars. Available online are clips of an interview with Mary Louise Rasmuson, who was a member of the first WAC class to graduate from officer training school in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in 1942. During World War II, she was the school's director, and later in her twenty-year career she became director of the entire Women's Army Corps [moving image]. Also interviewed was Violet Hill Gordon, who was one of the first African American women to join the WAC and receive training at Fort Des Moines. She later became the commanding officer in the 6888th Central Postal Directory [audio].

Army officer Henry Harley Arnold (160,000 items; 1903-89; bulk 1940-46) saved among his papers letters from mothers whose sons served in the Air Force during World War II and many subject files relating to the WAC, the WASP, the Women's Flying Corps, women nurses, and career opportunities for women after the war.

Air Force officer Noel Francis Parrish (29,500 items; 1894-1987; bulk 1930-87) is best known for overseeing the training of African American male pilots at Tuskegee Army Air Field during World War II, but he was also interested in the work of the Women's Army Corps and corresponded with Pam A. McClellan about the training of women pilots.

The papers of William H. Tunner, United States Air Force officer, and Margaret Ann Hamilton Tunner, World War II Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) pilot, contain correspondence, military records, biographical materials, photographs, and scrapbooks concerning Margaret Ann Hamilton Tunner's private life as well as her service as a WASP during World War II and her work in Japan for the occupation forces after the war.

Dixie Tighe was just one of many women covering the war for news media (see Janet Flanner and May Craig in the Literature and Journalism section). Another was Betty Wason (b. 1912), a Columbia Broadcasting System war correspondent in Europe from 1938 to 1941, who for part of that time was stationed in Greece and made nightly broadcasts from there to the United States. Of note among Wason's papers (21 items; 1941-43) is a diary with brief entries describing the German invasion of Greece and her evacuation from Athens via Berlin and Lisbon to New York.

Among the many collections that describe the home front during World War II (see especially Congressional Collections) are the papers of labor relations consultant Maurice F. Neufeld (12,000 items; 1919-90; bulk 1932-87), which include correspondence from his wife Hinda Cohen Neufeld, an administrator with the New York State Division of Women in Industry and Minimum Wage.

Manuscript Resources Referenced

The following collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online content, including finding aids for the collections, are included when available.


  1. See American Women and the U.S. Armed Forces: A Guide to the Records of Military Agencies in the National Archives Relating to American Women, compiled by Charlotte Palmer Seeley; revised by Virginia C. Purdy and Robert Gruber (Washington: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992; U21.75.S44 1992). Back to text
  2. Ira Eaker to Mrs. Dorothy Dell Kelly, March 13, 1944, container I:11, Ira Eaker Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress. Back to text
  3. On May 14, 1942, Congress passed legislation establishing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and just two months later the first 440 recruits reported to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for basic training, among them approximately forty African American women. The War Department and WAAC director Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) had assured Congress that Negro WAAC officers and auxiliaries would constitute at least 10 percent of the corps, but aggressive recruitment at black colleges and the assistance of influential reformer and educator Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) were needed to attract enough qualified applicants to meet this quota and to dispel black women's fears of discrimination within the segregated armed services. The black press and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, critical of the appointment of Hobby, a white southerner, carefully monitored the situation at Fort Des Moines and attempted to use the training facility as a test case to challenge the army's segregation policies. Some of the first African American women to be trained at Fort Des Moines, the women of the Third Platoon, Company 1, shown here with their commanding officer Capt. Frank Stillman, were in all likelihood part of either the first or second classes to graduate, respectively, on August 29 and September 11, 1942. Back to text