The Women’s Army Corps was originally created as the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps or WAAC, by Public Law 554 on May 15, 1942. Although women had worked overseas during World War I as both contractors and volunteers, their non-Army status meant they were responsible for providing their own food, lodging, and medical care during their time of service, nor did they receive any type of pension of disability benefits.
As the potential of U.S. involvement in World War II became an increasingly possibility in 1941, Congresswoman Edith Rogers of Massachusetts began to push for legislation to establish a Women’s Army Corps that would allow women to serve in the Army (although certainly not in combat or on the front lines) and accrue the same benefits as their male counterparts. Working closely with Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, Rogers crafted a bill to create an Women’s Auxiliary that would work with the Army rather than becoming a part of it. Note that this was not Rogers’ true wish, but rather the best she could hope to achieve in light of the vigorous opposition to women enlisting in the Army.
When Congress established the WAAC, it authorized the enrollment of up 150,000 women who would be provided food, pay, uniforms, living quarters, and access to medical care. Although there was nothing in the legislation to prohibit WAACs from serving overseas, it did not offer them many of the benefits—overseas pay, government-paid life insurance, death benefits, veterans medical care, and so forth—that members of the Army received. In fact, because they were not considered part of the Army, they were not entitled to protection provided by international treaties regarding the treatment of prisoners of war.
President Roosevelt set a goal of 25,000 recruits on the day he signed the bill authorizing the creation of the WAAC. That number was exceeded within six months, prompting Secretary of War Henry Stimson to up the quota to the full 150,000 authorized by Congress.
A little over a year later, Congress passed another bill that transformed the WAAC into the Women’s Army Corps; existing WAACs were allowed to join the Army or leave the service. With this move and the subsequent protections and benefits offered to members of the Army, WACs quickly began to be deployed overseas, with the first wave arriving in England in July, 1943. The next year saw their deployment to the Southwest Pacific at bases at New Guinea (Hollandia and Oro Bay) and the Philippines (Leyte and Manila). By the war’s end, about 150,000 had served in either the WAAC or WAC.
Although the WAC continued on after the end of World War II, the urgent necessity for women to fill the gaps in production and clerical work caused by the massive mobilization required by a global conflict no longer existed. Coupled with the drive to allow women to serve in the Regular Army alongside male soldiers, this led to the disbanding of the service in 1978.
The Women’s Army Corps Service Medals is somewhat unique in that the inscription on the obverse reads “Women’s Army Corps,” while the obverse has the words “For Service in the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps” and “1942 -1943.” This makes it one of the few decorations—most likely the only one—to explicitly refer to two names of the same organization.