Marine Corps Women's Reserve
The Marine Corps was strictly male until World
War II except for 305 Marine Reservists (F), popularly termed Marinettes,
who served during World War I. By 1942, unprecedented manpower demands
of the two-front war led to personnel shortages. Although Corps
Commandant, General Thomas Holcomb opposed recruiting women, he
followed the example of the Army, Navy and Coast Guard and began
a drive to replace men by women in all possible positions.
The public anticipated a catchy nickname for
the women and bombarded headquarters with suggestions such as Femarines,
Glamarines, and even, Sub-Marines, but General Holcomb ruled out
the cute titles. In a March 1944 issue of Life magazine,
he announced, 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. The inherit the traditions of Marines.
They are Marines. In practice, they were usually called Women
Reservists, shortened to WRs.
||Congresswoman (later, Senator)
Margaret Chase Smith visits Marine training at Camp Lejeune,
Ruth Cheney Streeter became their first director.
Wife of a prominent businessman, mother of fourincluding three
sons in the serviceand a leader for 20 years in New Jersey
health and welfare work, Major Streeter had never before held a
paying job. Her matronly, dignified demeanor allayed the fears of
parents who were not going to let their little darlings go
in among all these wolves unless they thought that someone was keeping
a motherly eye on them.
In the beginning, some of the volunteers may
have longed for home. Training for the WRs consolidated at Camp
Lejeune, North Carolina, but the change from civilians to Marines
began long before their arrival. Recruits traveled to Wilmington,
North Carolina, on troop trains of about 500. At the depot, they
were lined up, issued paper armbands identifying them as boots (trainees),
and ordered to pick up luggageanybody's luggageand marched
aboard another train. At the other end, shouting NCOs herded them
to austere barracks with large, open squadbays, group shower rooms,
male urinals, and toilet stalls without doors. No time was allowed
for adjustment. A few wondered what they had done and why they had
||Women Reservists arrive in the territory
of Hawaiithen considered an overseas post.
Nonetheless, WRs were protected according to
the customs of the day. The Marine Corps, renowned for excellent
discipline and morale, had no history to help them bridge the gender
gap. Women Marines were not pliant teenagers, but rather, adults
at least twenty years old; most with work experience, some married;
some had children; and a few had grandchildren. Since women were
expected to adhere to near-Victorian standards, military leaders
assumed a paternalistic attitude and the inevitable occurredgrown
women were often treated like school girls. To prevent loneliness
and avoid unfavorable comments, no fewer than two WRs were assigned
to a station; enlisted women were not assigned to a post unless
there was a woman officer in the vicinity; and it was customary
to assign women officers to units of twenty-five or more WRs. Women
aboard a base, unlike men of equal rank, could not have an automobile!
Yet the Marine Corps desperately needed their
skills and gradually found out how far traditional job limits could
be stretched. Five hundred WRs arrived at boot camp every two weeks
and matching them to job openings was challenging. In 1943, Marine
recruiting brochures promised women openings in thirty-four job
assignments; but final statistics at the end of the war recorded
WRs in over 225 different specialties, filling 85 percent of the
enlisted jobs at Headquarters Marine Corps and comprising one-half
to two-thirds of the permanent personnel at major Marine Corps posts.
Among all the beautifully worded accolades bestowed
on women Marines of World War II, is a simple statement from General
Holcomb: Like most Marines, when the matter first came up,
I didn't believe women could serve any useful purpose in the Marine
Corps . . .Since then, I've changed my mind.
in this article is excerpted from Marine Corps Women's Reserve:
Free A Man To Fight, by Colonel Mary V. Stremlow USMCR (Ret.).
Colonel Stremlow's essay appears in
In Defense of a Nation: Servicewomen in World War II, edited by
Major General Jeanne M. Holm, USAF (Ret.) and Judith Bellafaire,
Ph.D., Chief Historian of the Women's Memorial Foundation (Arlington,
Virginia: Vandamere Press, 1998).