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)


Cpl Richardson
Cpl June Richardson models a "new" uniform at a Parris Island fashion show. Photo courtesy or Sarah Thornton

In most cases, men supervised women Marines on the job, but routine matters of discipline were left to the women officers. When male officers had serious problems with the women at work, they generally turned to the senior woman on board. This unusual idea of shared responsibility was certainly alien to Marines and caused more than a few problems, but in most instances it worked.

Ordinarily, women Marines were organized into battalions or squadrons with women line officers in command. If a WR did not perform her work satisfactorily, or arrived late, her male work supervisor did not discipline her but reported the problem to her commanding officer for action. On the other hand, if a WR requested leave, her commanding officer did not grant it without first clearing it with the work supervisor. It often happened that unit obligations in the barracks area, such as mess duty, training, parades, "field days," and inspections conflicted with work schedules, and this created some animosity between female commanders and male work supervisors.

There was genuine ambiguity, as well, about the authority invested in women officers and NCOs. The stated policy said that it was limited to the administration of the Women's Reserve and to be exercised solely over WRs. Someone had determined that the relationship of women officers and noncommissioned officers to enlisted men was akin to that of a civilian teacher in a military school — senior women could give instructions, but matters of discipline and job performance were to be referred to the man's commanding officer.

In time, the Commandant found it necessary to provide some clarification. "It appears that the services of officers and non-commissioned officers of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve are not being realized to the fullest extent due to some doubt as to the scope of their authority," he wrote in March 1944. Explaining that the matter had been considered by the Navy Department he continued, " . . . it is concluded that it is entirely proper for a woman officer to be assigned to duty subordinate to a commanding officer and her directions and orders in the proper performance of such duty are the acts of the officer in command, even though such orders are directed to male personnel." This simple statement allowed women to become adjutants, personnel, and mess officers.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division