Artifacts Tell HERstory
Dig deeper into the stories of the diversity of America's servicewomen, by exploring curated artifcats from the Military Women's Memorial Foundation Collection. Click on each image to see and read more.
In 1942, Charity (Adams) Earley became the first Black commissioned officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), later the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). In 1944, the WAC selected Earley commanding officer of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion (CPDB), the only Black WAC unit to serve overseas during World War II. The 6888th CPDB was sent to the European Theater in 1945 to straighten out the confused and backlogged Army mail system. Despite encountering sexism and racism, members of the unit succeeded in clearing the backlog. As a result of her leadership, the U.S. Army promoted Earley to lieutenant colonel in 1945. Years later, she was asked, “How did it feel to know you were making history?” Earley replied, “But you don’t know you’re making history when it’s happening. I just wanted to do my job.”
A monthly publication by the United States Department of Interior, Office of Indian Affairs, Indians at Work contained articles, photographs and drawings to help promote the accomplishments of Native Americans and showcase the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps Indian Division. It was published from 1933 to 1945.
WAC Gladys (Thomas) Anderson, a member of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, returned home with these souvenirs from her assignments in Rouen and Paris, France.
“The most memorable event in my Army career was being selected to become a member of the first contingent of Black WACs to go overseas. I was with the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, and we sailed on the Ile de France for England in February 1945. I realized that this was a historical event and a tremendous opportunity. I had always wanted to travel. After we landed, my life was one adventure after another. From England, we were assigned to a base in Rouen, France—a city that was heavily bombed but whose beauty was still in evidence. . . . Our next stop and base was Paris. It was such a cosmopolitan city and I visited all the sights.”
In addition to uniforms, new recruits were issued everything from nylons to pajamas to eyeglasses. Gladys (Thomas) Anderson, who enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps in June 1944, used red nail polish to make hers look a little less government issue.
The idea for the Military Intelligence Service Language School (MISLS) was formed prior to the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. The strained relations between Japan and the United States deemed a need for an intelligence unit with knowledge of the Japanese language. The school first opened in November 1941 at the Presidio in San Francisco. In June 1942, the school moved to Camp Savage, Minnesota, as a result of the relocation of Japanese Americans from the West Coast into internment camps and the need for larger facilities. A move to Fort Snelling followed shortly thereafter.
In November 1944, the first women including Nisei (second generation Japanese American) WACs were assigned to Fort Snelling. They learned to read, write, translate and interpret Japanese military and technical terms as well as studying Japanese geography, culture and sociopolitical background. By the middle of 1945, peak WAC strength reached 51 and included 3 Caucasians, 1 Chinese-American, 18 Japanese Americans from Hawaii and 29 Nisei from the mainland, some of whom were recruited from internment camps. After training, half of the WACs were assigned to the East Coast and half remained at Fort Snelling.
Prior to V-J Day, there was a shift from teaching military to general Japanese and particularly, civil affairs Japanese. By the time the school closed in June 1946, some 6,000 personnel had graduated.
Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, educator, civil rights activist, community organizer, public policy advisor, public health advocate and presidential advisor, was instrumental in mobilizing support for the war effort among African Americans during World War II. She led war bond and blood donation drives and encouraged African American women to work in canteens. As a special assistant to the Secretary of War for the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), later the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), she promoted the recruitment of African American women as well as desegregated military service. Except for the 10 percent of African American WAACs who served as officers, the military did not mix African American and white servicewomen during World War II.
The Army maintained segregation policies until 1950 when the service lifted a ten percent racial recruiting quota and desegregated basic training. Segregated specialist training courses and assignments were opened to all personnel.
In 1968, "the only Negro girl at that time working with the Red Cross Recreational Service," was Barbara Lynn, 26 of Youngstown, Ohio. The American Red Cross arrived in Vietnam in February 1962 and by the time they departed in March 1973, some 1,120 women had served. Their involvement reached a peak in 1968 when 480 field directors, hospital workers and recreation workers assisted an average of 25,500 servicemen each month.
One of the three categories of Red Cross workers in Vietnam was the SRAO (Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas) or the “Donut Dollies.” These young college graduates operated recreation centers and traveled to isolated bases conducting audience participation games, serving Kool-Aid, and giving haircuts. Each month, these women traveled 27,000 miles by jeep, truck, airplane or helicopter to bring a little bit of home to the troops in the war zone.
When she enlisted in the Air Force in January 1968, Ramona (Quapaw) DePrimo’s father presented her with this 100-year-old drumstick handed down from her grandfather, a Quapaw chief.
“I always wanted to be in the military. My oldest sister says I always marched to a different drummer.
I loved waking up in the morning knowing that I had a certain goal and a positive approach to getting things done.”
Army Reservist First Sergeant Delphine Metcalf was one of some 40,000 women who served during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990-1991. At that time, it was the largest deployment of military women in U.S. history.
“On November 2, 1990, I was called to active duty in support of Operation Desert Shield/Storm. My company, the 689th Quartermaster out of Oakland, California, arrived in Saudi Arabia [on] December 12, 1990. After suffering a heart attack in late January, I had to be medevaced to Germany and then to Letterman Army Medical [San Francisco]. I fought with my doctors until they let me return to my troops in Saudi Arabia [in] March 1991. While in the Gulf [my company] was attached to an active duty company from Germany—the 3rd Platoon, 1st Combat Transportation Company. This experience for me as a female 1SG was one that I will never forget. The respect, cooperation and comradeship from troops whom I had never met is something for me to treasure always.”
The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2015 American Community Survey reported that there were 15, 628 women American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) veterans, or roughly 11.7 percent of the AIAN veteran population. The percentage of female veterans for all races was 8.4 percent. Female AIAN veterans constituted 1.0 percent of all female veterans while all AIAN veterans comprised 0.7 percent of the entire veteran population.