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Texas | Columns | All Things Historica

WACs

by Archie P. McDonald
Archie McDonald Ph.D.
When WWII began for us in 1941, there were nearly as many unemployed as at any point in America's decade-long Great Depression. The need for workers -- American armed forces eventually exceeded 13 million in uniform -- produced the phenomenon of a manpower shortage.

In the civilian sector, this created job opportunities for women and minorities previously unimaginable. Even within the services there was a need to put every available man into a combat or combat support role. Part of the solution was use women in as many stateside military positions as possible, especially in clerical jobs.

Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall asked Houstonian Oveta Culp Hobby to head a new organization tentatively called the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The women volunteers were not considered actually "in" the army, but they endured basic training and advanced training similar to men and lived and worked military style, including uniforms. Soon the "auxiliary" was dropped, and the gals in khaki were simple WACs -- women in the army.

Well, the WACs saved Stephen F. Austin State College. This "teacher's college," founded in Nacogdoches in 1923, enrolled about 1,000 students when the war began. Most male students either enlisted, were drafted, or found work in defense plants, and soon only a few hundred students mostly women remained.

Fearing he would have insufficient enrollment or finances to continue, SFA's president, Dr. Paul L. Boynton, convinced the army to "rent" most of his campus as an instructional facility for WACs who would receive assignments involving office work. The college had the classrooms, dormitories, office equipment -- everything the WACs needed for training. The first class arrived in 1943. The women first endured their basic training at a camp near Des Moines, Iowa, then arrived in Nacogdoches by railroad. The first class of uniformed women that marched from the depot to the campus caused quite a stir in the community, but soon the town folk became accustomed to their presence. Many families invited them to Sunday dinner during their six weeks of training, easing the homesickness.

Clarice Pollard wrote of her experiences in Nacogdoches and elsewhere in WAC service in Laugh, Cry, and Remember: The Journal of A G.I. Lady (1991). It is rich in references to her experiences, and these items are typical.

Clarice was from Brooklyn, where she had followed a kosher diet not available in Nacogdoches. She remembers mostly the grease in which everything was fried. And she remembers the girls mailing home magnolia blossoms to their mothers, unaware that the delicate flowers would never survive the journey.

What SFA remembers, and it was no laughing matter, is that the WA's saved the college.
Archie P. McDonald
All Things Historical
Sept. 1-7, 2002 column
A syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
(Archie P. McDonald is Director of the East Texas Historical Association and author or editor of over 20 books on Texas)


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