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Using Primary Sources in the Classroom:

Lesson 3: WACS - Women in the War

Background Information for Teachers

As American casualties mounted during World War II, more soldiers were needed to fight. Women were called upon to do their part at home to release men for frontline service in Europe and the Pacific. The Women's Army Corps utilized women in a variety of military support roles and many more women took jobs in the ordnance industries and even on the farm. For many women, it was their first entry into the work force out of the home. These war-induced changes had tremendous implications on the traditional gender role assigned to women in Alabama and the nation.

 

Learning Objectives
Upon completion of this lesson, students should be able to:
  1. Describe the duties of women in the military in World War II.
  2. Compare and contrast the duties of women currently serving in the military and those who served in World War II.
  3. Discuss the changes in gender roles from the World War II era and the present.
Suggested Activity
  1. Make copies of the newspaper articles (Documents 1, 2, 3, and 6), The Skirted Soldier, and the letter from the Alabama Defense Council for each student.

     

  2. After reading the documents, ask the students to list the jobs that the WACS performed in the military.

     

  3. Have the students write a letter to the commander at Fort McClellan or to the committee of the Alabama State Defense Council explaining why they want to join this group of women in the military. The talents and prior training of the applicants should be included in the letter as well as marital status and care responsibilities, such as children or aging parents.

     

  4. After the letters have been written, the students should, as a class, create a list of qualifications that applicants should have in order to be considered for selection.

     

  5. The students (or teacher) should read their letters aloud to the class. Upon completion of each letter the students should discuss whether or not the person is an acceptable applicant.

     

  6. Ask the students the following questions:
    1. What are the present requirements for serving in the military for men and women?
    2. Are the requirements different for women and men in the military of today?
    3. In your opinion, were the WACS an essential part of the military in World War II? What kind of training was given to the WACS? What kind of training would you have given to the WACS if you had been the commander?
    4. What other kinds of war efforts were available to the applicant who had too many family obligations to be accepted as a WAC?

       

  7. Allow the students to read the documents dealing with day care for the women who were working in the factories and the guidelines for female labor on farms. Ask the students to find similarities and differences between the working woman's concerns or abilities during World War II and the woman of today.
Documents
  • Document 1: Johnston, Marguerite. "Wacs Take Over Soldiers' Work at Ft. McClellan." The Birmingham News, 14 May 1944. ADAH Public Information Subject File - General Files, SG 6993, Folder 1645, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 2: Van der Veer, Virginia. "Weaker Sex? Not Any More, Brother." The Birmingham News, 10 June 1942. ADAH Public Information Subject File - General Files, SG 6993, Folder 1645, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 3: Mills, George S. "WAAC [sic] Officer Candidates Told Glamor Stuff is Strictly Out." The Birmingham News, 19 June 1942, ADAH Public Information Subject File - General Files, SG 6993, Folder 1645, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 4: Aldridge, Charles Collins. The Skirted Soldier. Alabama State Council of Defense (1941-1946), Program Administrative Files, SG 19859, Folder 24, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 5: Paterson, Haygood, Montgomery, Alabama, to Mr. Z. Scogin, Piedmont, Alabama, 28 September 1943. Alabama State Council of Defense (1941-1946), Program Administrative Files, SG 19859, Folder 24, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 6: "Five More Nursery Schools Planned to Aid War Workers." The Mobile Register, 26 August 1942. Alabama State Council of Defense (1941-1946), Program Administrative Files, SG 19882, Folder 26, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 7: U.S. Department of Labor. Women's Bureau. Guide for Wartime Use of Women on Farms ([Washington, D.C.]: U.S. Department of Labor, Women's Bureau, 1942). Alabama Council of Defense (1941-1946), Program Administrative Files, SG 19882, Folder 38, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.

     

  • Document 8: The National Commission for Young Children. Children's Centers Vital to Victory (Washington, D.C.: The National Commission for Young Children, 1942). Alabama Council of Defense (1941-1946), Program Administrative Files, SG 19882, Folder 28, Alabama Department of Archives & History, Montgomery, Alabama.