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)

Assignment and Housing

Out of consideration for the women — their welfare, morale, and reputation — geographical assignments were based on several factors besides Marine Corps personnel needs. Originally, women were to be sent only to posts where their services had been requested and then only if appropriate housing was available. The November 1942 survey which queried Marine Corps posts on the number of women they could use also asked about suitable quarters.

In the 1940s, "nice girls" seldom lived away from home or by themselves, and when they did, there was always a chaperone figure somewhere in the picture. Even in war time, and even in the midst of such unusual circumstances as women serving in the Armed Forces, homage was paid to the accepted protocol. To prevent loneliness and avoid unfavorable comments, no fewer than two Marine women were assigned to a station or sub-station, enlisted women could not be assigned to a post unless there was a woman officer in the near vicinity, and it was customary to assign women officers to units of 25 or more WRs. The ratio was considerably less in the procurement offices in large cities.

softball team
At whatever base they were stationed in the States, women Marines had an active athletic program, as shown by this 1945 MCWR softball team at Parris Island. Photo courtesy of Sarah Thornton

On most posts women Marines had a commanding officer who reported to the post commander. However, there was a new wrinkle in that the women were an autonomous entity — proud to run their own outfit, handling general administration, barracks area maintenance, and mess halls. The relatively few women Marines stationed in large cities were given subsistence, a monetary allowance to pay for housing and meals.

An exception was made in Washington, D.C., where a new and independent post, Henderson Hall, was built to house the 2,400 WRs stationed there. Officially, it was named for the first Commandant, General Archibald Henderson, but under standably it became "Hen Hall."

When women joined the Marine Corps they elevated the quality of barracks living up a notch or two. Stark squadbays were sometimes softened with pastel paint and stuffed animals could be found resting on tightly made bunks. Dressers were lined up to provide a little privacy, shower curtains were hung, and doors closed off toilet stalls. Day rooms set aside to entertain dates were furnished with board games, pianos, and record players and space was found for cooking appliances, hair dryers, and sewing machines in lounges reserved for women only.

Marines didn't rush to embrace the feminine touches, but after a reasonable period of adjustment, commanding officers were proud to traipse visitors and dignitaries through the immaculate WR barracks and mess halls — clothing hung facing in one direction, sparkling mirrors, no dust kittens under the bunks, and glossy floors buffed to perfection with Kotex.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division