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)

Early Planning

On 5 November, the Commandant wrote to the commanding officers of all Marine posts and procurement districts to prepare them for the forthcoming MCWR and to ask for their best estimates of the number of Women Reservists (WRs) needed to replace officers and men as office clerks, radiomen, drivers, mechanics, messmen, commissary clerks, etc. He made clear that, within the next year the manpower shortage would be such that it would be incumbent on all concerned with the national welfare to replace men by women in all possible positions.

Armed with the responses, planners tried to project how many women possessing the required skills would be enlisted and put to work immediately, and how many would need special training in such fields as paymaster, quartermaster, and communicator. Based on their calculations, quotas were established for recruiting and training classes were scheduled.

Early estimates called for an initial target of 500 officers and 6,000 enlisted women within four months, and a total of 1,000 officers and 18,000 enlisted women by June 1944. The plan for rank and grade distribution followed the same pattern as the men's with only minor differences. For officers there would be one major and 35 captains, with the balance of the remaining commissioned officers being first and second lieutenants.

Col Ruth Cheney Streeter
Col Ruth Cheney Streeter, the first director of the Marine Corps Women's Reserve, was photographed at Headquarters, Marine Corps, Washington. Department of Defense Photo (USMC) 12627

The highest rank, fixed by Public Law 689, permitted one lieutenant commander in the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve, whose counterpart in the Marine Corps would be a major. Eventually, the law was amended so that the senior woman in the Navy and Coast Guard was promoted to captain and in the Marine Corps to colonel.

The public, anticipating a catchy nickname for women Marines much like the WACS, WAVES, and SPARS, bombarded Headquarters with suggestions: MARS, Femarines, WAMS, Dainty Devil-Dogs, Glamarines, Women's Leather-neck Aides, and even Sub-Marines. Surprisingly, considering his open opposition to using women at all, General Holcomb adamantly ruled out all cute names and acronyms and when answering yet another reporter on the subject, stated his views very forcefully in an article in the 27 March 1944 issue of Life magazine: "They are Marines. They don't have a nickname and they don't need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines"

Marine women of World War II were enormously proud to belong to the only military service that shared its name with them and, actually, insisted upon it. It happened that, in practice, they were most often called Women Reservists, informally shortened to WRs. When referred to as women Marines, or Marine women, the "w" was not capitalized as it was later, after the passage of the Armed Forces Integration Act of 1948, the law that gave women regular status in the military. Then, Women Marines were best known as WMs. In fact, women would have to wait 30 years before the gender designator would be dropped and they at last would be simply Marines.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division