Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Early Planning
The First WRs
Early Training: Holyoke and Hunter
Training: Camp Lejeune
Reserve Officer's Class
Specialist Schools
Director, MCWR
Assignment and Housing
Women's Reserve Band
Epilogue: War's End
Special Subjects
Women's Reserve Employment

FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT: Women Marines in World War II
by Colonel Mary V Stremlow, USMCR (Ret)

Director, MCWR

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.

sketch of women's barracks
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 Collection

2d Headquarters Battalion
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) 13470

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.

Next Page Document Cover Next Page
MARINES The Few. The Proud.
Back to Top
Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division