FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)
There was never any question that there had to be an
MCWR Director, especially to gain the public's favor, but her authority
was an illusion. She had a great deal of influence but could not take
independent action. The Director was clearly responsible for the tone of
the Women's Reserve and as Marines gradually gained confidence in her
judgement, they paid more attention to her suggestions.
At the outset, in an unusual move, Major Streeter was
assigned a running mate the very patient Major Rhoads who sat
beside her for six months and taught her the Marine Corps way. As it
turned out, this was a great advantage both for the Director and for the
MCWR. Captain McAfee, first WAVE Director, once remarked that she had
not had a running mate, and since she came into the Navy totally
inexperienced in military custom, she made some unfortunate mistakes
which stirred up a certain resentment against her. Grateful for Major
Rhoads' guidance, but somewhat embarrassed that after six months on the
job, she was the only woman director with a mentor at her elbow, Major
Streeter sent a memo to Colonel Waller asking for more autonomy.
Officers at every level in the chain of command recommended disapproval,
but Major Streeter eventually prevailed by acknowledging the wisdom of
their decision to give her a running mate which she admitted kept
her from falling flat on her face and by making the points that
one can't stay in leading reins forever, it would be more dignified if
she would be allowed to take over alone, and the Marine Corps wasn't
getting its money out of her.
So, on 29 October 1943, she be came a Special
Assistant to the Director of Personnel to advise him on matters of
policy. A month later on 22 November, the law amended, she was promoted
to lieutenant colonel and then, on 1 February 1944, to colonel. Still,
she had no authority of her own, never signed official letters except
acknowledgements of monthly reports, and was expected not to interfere
unless the situation involved blatant disregard of approved policies.
Even then, she merely apprised the Director of Personnel of problems and
perhaps offered suggestions, but he took such action as he saw fit.
It was quite a disappointment to Colonel Streeter
when she recognized, quite by chance, the limits of her position. Once,
looking for sympathy, she went to Colonel Waller and said, "You know,
Colonel, it's a little hard on me. I've got so much responsibility and
no authority." She was taken back by his quick response, "Colonel
Streeter, you have no responsibility either." It served her very well
that no one else male or female was ever quite sure just
how much authority she did have.
Artist Marion A. Allen drew this sketch of Barracks 57
in the WR area at Camp Lejeune in 1944. The women made their living
quarters "homier" with an abundance of photographs, stuffed animals, and
other mementos of their civilian lives. Marine Corps Art
Members of the 2d Headquarters Battalion at Henderson
Hall pass in review for BGen Littleton W. T. Waller, Jr., the Director
of Personnel at Headquarters, Marine Corps. With Gen Waller is Maj
Martrese R. Ferguson, battalion commander. Department of Defense Photo (USMC)
Assistants for the Women's Reserve
The concept that WRs were Marines just like all
others, to be administered and managed in the same manner as the men,
was not easily put into practice. Routine information was transmitted
through the established chain of command, but the Director needed to
know much more if she held any hope of guiding the fledgling
organization, nourishing and encouraging the good and putting a stop to
the bad. Therefore, at each station where WRs served, the senior woman
was designated Assistant for the Womens' Reserve and she was charged
with keeping the post commander informed of all matters pertaining to
the women under his command.
Perhaps more importantly, she was expected to keep in
close touch with the MCWR Director, advising her on the state of health,
welfare, jobs, training, housing, recreation, morale, and discipline of
the women while not violating the chain of command. Each month, she sent
a written report to Headquarters with a copy to the post commanding
officer. It contained information on all aspects of the well-being of
the women, along with comments of particular interest at the station.
Normally, the information was shared with Colonel Streeter who used it
to supplement her own frequent inspection trips to assess the success or
failure of official policies.