women in the Military During World War II
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 a total war.
Since December 1941, 350,000 women served in the United States Armed Forces. 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 traditional "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 total 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. Fifteen Minnesota women participated in WASPS. Pearl Gullickson from Donnely, Minnesota, served in the Coast Guard as a SPAR. Anne Bosanko Green joined the WAC and worked in a hospital as a surgical assistant. Previously a student at University of Minnesota, she took time off from her studies in order to join the war effort. Those women who did not join the military contributed to the war effort in other ways, including factory work on the home front and volunteering their time and services in local organizations to help the war effort.
Get Started With Secondary Sources
- A Woman's War Too: U.S. Women in the Military in WWII, edited by Paula Nassen Poulos.
Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1996.
MHS call number: D 810 .W7 W65 1996.
- And Still Flying: The Life and Times of Elizabeth "Betty" Wall: W.A.S.P., by Patrick Roberts.
Fairbault, Minn.: Walking Shadow Publications, 2003.
MHS call number: D 810 .W7 R62 2003.
- Those Wonderful Women in Their Flying Machines: The Unknown Heroines of World War II, by Sally Van Wegenan Keil.
New York: Wade Publishers, 1978.
MHS call number: D 810 .W7 K43 1978.
- WASPS: Women Airforce Pilots of World War II, by Vera S. Williams.
Osceola, Wis: Motorbooks International, 1994.
MHS call number: D 790 .W493 1994.
- Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution, by Jeanne Holm.
Novato, Calif: Presidio Press, 1982.
MHS call number: UB 418 .W65 H64 1982.
- An Army in Skirts: The World War II Letters of Frances DeBra, by France DeBra Brown.
Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.
Look at the Table of Contents.
MHS call number: D 769.39 .B76 2008.
- Love at First Flight: One Woman's Experience as a WASP in World War II-and Fifty Years Later, She's Still Flying, by Elizabeth Strophus, as told to Cheryl Young.
St. Cloud, Minn.: North Star Press of St. Cloud, 1994.
MHS call number: D 790 .S89 1994.
- One Woman's War: Letters Home from the Women's Army Corps, 1944-46, by Anne B. Green.
St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989.
Look at the Table of Contents.
MHS call number: Reading Room D 807 .U6 G74 1989.
- Women Remember the War, 1941-1945, edited by Michael E. Stevens, Ellen D. Goldlust, assistant editor.
Madison, Wis.: Center for Documentary History, State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1993.
MHS call number: D 810 .W7 W67 1993.
- Anne Bosanko Green and Family Correspondence.
This collection consists of correspondence between Anne Bosanko and her parents, Paul and Blanche Bosanko, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Anne enlisted in the Women's Army Corps in September, 1944, and her letters relate to her activities in the WAC, her course work and training as a medical technician, her social life inside and outside of her various posts, and her travel between assignments. The correspondence was published as:
- One Woman's War: Letters Home from the Women's Army Corps, 1944-46, by Anne B. Green.; St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1989; MHS call number: Reading Room D 807 .U6 G74 1989.
- "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): pp. 246-258; MHS call number: F 601.5 M66 v.51:7, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
MHS call number for the original letters: See the green Alpha Manuscripts Notebooks—filed under Green, Anne Bosanko—for more details and a locator number (there is 1 box of material).
- 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. She died in a plane crash in December 1944. Hope's collection documents her World War II service in the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots). 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. Click on the links to see 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: P1549; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is 1 box of material), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
- Catherine Piccolo Papers.
This manuscript collection contains clippings, correspondence, military commissions and commendations, and miscellaneous materials relating to Piccolo's World War II service in the Women's Army Corps as director of classified files for the Manhattan Project.
MHS call number: P1220; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is one folder of material).
- A Time of Remembrance: Fifty Years and a Day, December 7, 1941 - December 8, 1991.
Photocopy of a commemorative pamphlet containing fourteen brief reminiscences about life during the Second World War by members of the Macalester-Plymouth United Church community. The reminiscences include information about men's and women's service in the Armed Forces, life on the home front, and the replacement of men by women in the factories.
MHS call number: P160; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is one item).
- "A WAC's War: Reminiscences," by Betty Olson.
This manuscript collection contains the writings of Betty Magnuson Olson, a Duluth woman who joined the Women's Army Corps and was stationed in Paris.
MHS call number: P1745; see the green "P" Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there are two folders of material).
- (Albert Lea) Evening Tribune
- Minneapolis Star
- Minneapolis Tribune
- St. Paul Dispatch
- St. Paul Pioneer Press
- Willmar Daily Tribune
- Use the "Search the Collection" Catalog to find more 3D objects relating to this topic.
- Check the library catalog for other materials.