Congressional Debates Over the Women’s Army Corps
Students will read and analyze the Congressional Record to determine the controversies surrounding the establishment of the Women’s Army Corps and will collaboratively explore connections between women’s roles in the military and gender roles of the era. Students will synthesize their findings in a final assessment.
After American entry into World War II, women wanted to volunteer to support the effort. Massachusetts Republican Congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers introduced legislation in the House of Representatives to establish the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), formalizing a role for women in military service. This caused debate in the Congress regarding questions of implementation, pay, benefits, and veteran status. Ultimately the bill was signed into law and by the end of the war, thousands of women had served as WACs, both in the United States and abroad, and made important contributions to the Allied success.
At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to
- Describe the reasons members of Congress supported and opposed the Women’s Army Corps; and
- Evaluate how that debate reflected gender roles of the era.
Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.3 Evaluate various explanations for actions or events and determine which explanation best accords with textual evidence, acknowledging where the text leaves matters uncertain.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.6 Evaluate authors' differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors' claims, reasoning, and evidence.
Connections to C3 Framework
D2.Civ.13.9-12. Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.His.5.9-12. Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.
- Make one copy of the political cartoons for each student or prepare slides of the political cartoons if you will project them or share them online.
- Make one copy of the following for each student:
- Cartoon Analysis Worksheet
- Reasons for and Challenges to the Women’s Army Corps Chart
- Women’s Army Corps Student Assessment
- Women’s Army Corps Student Assessment Rubric
- Divide the class into eight groups.
- Print one page of the Congressional Record excerpt for each group.
Activity One: Political Cartoons (15 minutes)
- Explain that the class will study the role of women in the military during World War II and you will begin class by analyzing two political cartoons.
- Distribute (or share digitally) copies of political cartoons.
- Lead students in an analysis of the cartoons. Based on teacher discretion, you can choose to:
- Direct each student to analyze both cartoons using the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet.
- Split the class in half, with half of the class analyzing one cartoon and half the other. Upon completion, they pair up with a peer to debrief.
- Analyze one or both of the cartoons to use with the whole class.
- Debrief the significance of the cartoon(s) with the whole class.
Activity Two: Analyzing the Congressional Record (45 minutes)
- Divide the class into eight groups.
- Introduce the remainder of the lesson with the context appropriate for your class. Consider:
- the role of women in war over time;
- the concept of separate spheres;
- the impact of that concept on women engaging in any type of military service; and
- the reluctance during the Great Depression to employ women over men.
- Introduce the Congressional Record, a transcript of the debates on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Explain to students that they will be using the Congressional Record to analyze the debate over the Women’s Army Corps.
- Teacher Tip: Mandated by the Constitution and published by the Government Printing Office, the Congressional Record captures the democratic debate and discussion that occurs in the United States Congress.
- Teacher Tip: Between 1942 and 1943, Congress engaged in two discussions about women in the Army. In 1942 the debate was about establishing the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). In 1943, Congress dropped the “auxiliary” status to provide increased benefits for women serving in the Corps and established the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). The Congressional Record documents in this lesson are from that first debate in 1942 over the WAAC, as they include a richer understanding of the controversy over women serving in the military. Students may notice the different term as they analyze the Congressional Record.
- Distribute to each group one page of the Congressional Record excerpts.
- Distribute to each student the chart of Reasons for and Challenges to the Women's Army Corps.
- Instruct students to read their assigned excerpt and fill in the chart with reasons from the Congressional Record.
- Compile a master chart on the board with each student’s contributions.
- Lead a discussion on what the bill reveals about gender roles, personnel needs during the war, and shifting priorities during the war.
- Ask students:
- How were the challenges resolved?
- What does this show about compromise at that time?
- Instruct students to return to the documents to create a list of the stakeholders evident in the documents. Who is involved in this debate? How does each stakeholder’s involvement influence the debate?
- Lead a discussion:
- What does this debate show about the long term consequences and considerations of this bill?
- Will WACs be veterans?
- Will WACs be eligible for benefits?
- What are the rules to which WACs are subject?
- What are the protections for which WACs will be eligible?
Methods for Extension
- Students can compare and contrast the debate over the Women’s Army Corps to the contemporary debate over women in combat roles in the military.
- Students can research how other branches of the military incorporated women during World War II.
- Students can learn about a member of the Women’s Army Corps, Private First Class Rose F. Puchalla.
- Teachers could model the analysis of the Congressional Record at the start of the lesson before students begin independent work.
- Students can work in small groups to analyze the Congressional Record.
- Teachers can break the lesson into two parts so students can work on the analysis of the Congressional Record for homework.
- Teachers could record audio or annotate the Congressional Record as needed.
Poster, Bradshaw Crandell, Are you a girl with star-spangled heart?--Join the WAC now!--Thousands of Army jobs need filling!, 1943
United States Army Recruiting Publicity Bureau
Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-1653)
Congressional Record, U.S. House of Representatives, May 28, 1941 to June 10, 1943
Government Printing Office
Cartoon, Gregory d’Alessio, “These Women!”
U.S. Army Women’s Museum
Permission granted from 8 Henderson Place Foundation
Cartoon, “Something New Has Been Added”
U.S. Army Women’s Museum
Permission granted from Joan Bernhardt