When Women First Wore Army Shoes: A First-Person Account of Service as a Member of the Women's Army Corps during WWII

By Graves, Nancy Barclay | Army, June 2011 | Go to article overview

When Women First Wore Army Shoes: A First-Person Account of Service as a Member of the Women's Army Corps during WWII


Graves, Nancy Barclay, Army


When Women First Wore Army Shoes: A First-Person Account of Service as a Member of the Women's Army Corps During WWII. Ethel A. Starbird. iUniverse. 145 pages; black-and-white photos; $14.95.

Women today make up roughly 14 percent of the active Army, 70 percent of Army positions are open to women, and women serve in 91 percent of all Army occupations. Seventy years ago, however, there were no women in the Army, a fact that prompted Rep. Edith Nourse Rogers (R-Mass.) to introduce a bill to implement a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). But it took the bombing of Pearl Harbor to galvanize Congress into passing the bill, realizing that women could fill many of the occupations behind the front lines that would free men for forward duty. Ethel Starbird - daughter, sister and sister-in-law of Army generals - was among the first of those women to enlist in the fledgling Women's Army Corps (WAC).

When Women First Wore Army Shoes is the memoir of Ethel Starbird. Edited by two of her nieces (Starbird died in 2005), the book is an amusing account of Starbird's two years of Army service, and offers a decidedly different perspective to those who only know the Army as it is today, one that includes a female four-star general.

Private Benjamin had nothing on Ethel Starbird. In September 1943, Starbird set off from her home in Vermont to Des Moines, Iowa, and basic training armed with golf clubs which, she was told, she would be able to use along with a going-away gift of a watermelon from her mother and her father's World War I earplugs.

Starbird makes it clear that, in the beginning, the Army was hardly prepared for the WAAC. The first classes of WAAC officer candidates and enlisted personnel were trained by male Regular Army officers because no women had completed Officer Candidate School (OCS) yet. Their uniforms were put together by a committee of men, and looked it ill-fitting, of a dismal color, with a hat designed to look good only on Oveta CuIp Hobby, the stylish director of the WAAC. As to functionality, slacks were permitted only for the dirtiest of jobs, and otherwise the WAAC "shivered in six-gore skirts," no protection against the Iowa winter wind.

Upon completion of her basic training, Starbird was assigned to an administration school at Eastern Kentucky State Teachers' College in Richmond, Ky. …

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