Women in the Military During World War II

African American women in military uniforms; two are inspecting several rows of women
Maj. Charity E. Adams and Capt. Abbie N. Campbell inspect members of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the first primarily-Black unit of the Women's Army Corps (WAC) to serve overseas during World War II, Feb. 15, 1945.

Courtesy National Archives and Records Administration.

American Servicewomen During World War II

More than 350,000 American women joined the United States Armed Forces during World War II. Women had been serving as Army and Navy nurses for decades, but World War II led to new opportunities for women to enlist in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

In 1942, Congress created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (later renamed the Women's Army Corps, or WAC), the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES, part of the US Navy), and the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve. The Coast Guard established a women’s unit known as the SPARS, short for the Marine Corps motto “Semper Paratus, Always Ready.” Women aviators flew with the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) unit beginning in 1943.

Women in uniform performed more than 200 different jobs during their service. They were clerks, mechanics, pilots, drivers, gunnery instructors, air traffic controllers, weather forecasters, postal workers, and translators. They served at home and abroad. Many of them risked their lives and safety. Four hundred and thirty-two servicewomen died. Eighty-eight were taken prisoner.

Many servicewomen received recognition and respect during the war, but they also faced gender discrimination from the public and male colleagues. Women of color confronted a double burden of racism and sexism.

After the war, the military discharged most women in uniform and disbanded some of their specialized units. But the demands of a world war had created a future for American women in the armed forces. In 1948, Congress passed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which granted women the right to serve as regular members of the military for the first time.

Explore some of the stories of World War II women in uniform.

White woman adjusting machine gun with shelves of machinery behind her
Marine Corps Women's Reserve

Women joined the US Marines for the first time during World War II as members of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.

Yellow illustrated posted with woman in uniform and flag and text "Spars"
Coast Guard Women's Reserve (SPARS)

As members of the SPARS, Coast Guard women served as officers, seamen, yeomen, drivers, radio operators, and much more.

Four women in flight suits walk toward the camera with a plane in the background
Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP)

Female pilots served their country during WWII as members of the WASP.

Women in light colored military uniforms standing in rows on bleachers
Women's Army Corps (WAC)

The Women's Army Corps (WAC) was the largest of the women's branches during WWII, with 150,000 members.

An older white woman embraces a younger white woman wearing military uniform

The US Naval Reserves opened to "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service" (WAVES) in 1942.

An East Asian woman in nurse's uniform tends to another East Asian woman in bed
Military Nurse Corps

Nurses joined the war effort as members of the Army Nurse Corps, Navy Nurse Corps, and Cadet Nurse Corps during WWII.

Women Who Served

  • White woman in pilot's outfit adjusting clothes standing in plane cockpit
    Jacqueline Cochran

    Aviator Jacqueline Cochran headed the WASP during WWII. A prominent racing pilot, she was the first woman to break the sound barrier.

  • Portrait image of African American woman in military uniform
    Charity Adams Earley

    Charity Adams Earley commanded the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, the only mostly-Black women's unit to go overseas in WWII.

  • Portrait image of older Asian American woman wearing glasses wearing a lei
    Florence Finch

    Filipina American Florence Finch served in the Coast Guard SPARS during WWII and was decorated for her service to the Philippine resistance.

  • An African American woman in military uniform sits on the deck of a ship
    Olivia Hooker

    Dr. Olivia J. Hooker, a survivor of the Tulsa race massacre, blazed a trail as the first Black woman on active duty in the US Coast Guard.

  • African American man in uniform with arm around older African American woman with medal and cap
    Amelia Jones

    Did you know that the Tuskegee Airmen included women? Sgt. Amelia Jones was honored in 2014 for her service with the 99th Pursuit Squadron.

  • Headshot image of white woman in military uniform
    Nancy Harkness Love

    Aviator Nancy Harkness Love was one of the leaders of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

More Stories of WWII Women in the Military

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    Last updated: December 7, 2023