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Pope Goes Co-Ed

  • Published
  • By Daniel Knickrehm
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Base Historian
On July 13, 1943, Third Officer Florence C. Holt became the first Women's Army Auxiliary Corps member to arrive for duty at Pope Field. Other WAACs arrived shortly after and caused quite a stir on Pope. Just two weeks after Holt's arrival, the Pope Field Runway said: "House Warming Over, WAACs Ready for Varied Duties."

A photo in the Runway displays a temporary co-ed dining arrangement with the caption that the women were "shown eating with a group of the 92nd" Although one article rather condescendingly claims the WAACs were a "cross section of the girls you've left behind" and still "the 'screwy little red-head' and 'snazzy blonde' you used to see on Main Street," the 869th WAAC commander, Lt. Adelaide M. Bruns, presented a different perspective. "The WAACS know what Army life is. We've been drilled, marched, KP-ed and work-detailed until we've griped as loudly as any of you."

Even though Lieutenant Bruns presented the WAACs as equals to men in the military, the reality of the situation in 1943 was to the contrary. A list of the duties the WAACs were assigned included clerical duties, technical jobs in the message center, weather detachment and photo lab as well as "keeping house at their quarters." There were stark differences between the assignments and benefits given to men and women in the military.

The bill authorizing the formation of the WAACs was passed in May 1942. Between that date and the publishing of the Runway article referred to here, the WAACs had made great strides toward equality. "...The Corps has grown rapidly, gathering new jobs and bigger responsibilities, new posts and new prestige. By September 1943, the WAACs lost an "A" and became the Women's Army Corps. The removal of the "Auxiliary" designation from the organization reflected a growing level of both opportunity and responsibility for women in the military.

The Runway shows that, in 1943, Congress was more progressive than American society. At the same time Congress was beginning to level the playing field for women in the military, articles and cartoons in the Runway reflected a sexist viewpoint. One of the more palatable cartoons titled "Out of Bounds" shows two GI's talking about a WAAC who is speaking to a man in a football uniform. The caption reads: "Pope Field WAACS don't know much about football - she's asking the football captain to give a talk on the T-formation at their tea party."

Looking at Pope today, one can't help but notice that the struggles initiated by women like Lieutenant Bruns in 1943 have had a profound, positive and long-lasting effect on military culture