We’ve all read and learned about World War II in our high
school history classrooms, but something hardly any school curriculums cover is
the impact LGBT people had on the war effort and how the war impacted LGBT culture across the world. One of the low points in this history
happened in June of 1944 when the American military began one of its most extensive
investigations of homosexual activity at Fort Oglethorpe, a training center for
the newly minted Women’s Army Corp.
1944, Third WAC Training Center, Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, Company 2,21st Regiment (x).
The Women’s Army Corp (WAC) officially became a branch of
the U.S. Army in 1942, and due to the demanding nature of WWII, there were
quickly two training centers up and running – one being Fort De Moines in Iowa
and the other being Fort Oglethorpe in Georgia. Despite a few slander campaigns
which opposed the idea of women soldiers, things seemed to be going well for
the WACs, that is until scandal struck Fort Oglethorpe. In May of 1944, a letter
was sent to Washington D.C. by a mother of a twenty-one-year-old WAC private.
The mother claimed that she had found love letters in her daughter’s room
between her and another woman who was a WAC
sergeant. The mother wrote that the Women’s Army Corp was “full of homosexuals
and sex maniacs” and that, “unless this vice is cleared out I am going to
reveal that scandal to the world.”
In order to combat the notion that the Women’s Army Corps was too masculine and degrading for “good” girls, the WAC routinely published posters such as these which showed WAC privates being fawned over and celebrated by proud parents (x).
The US War Department took the mother’s claims seriously and
responded by dispatching a whole investigative team to Fort Oglethorpe to perform
extensive secret hearings and interrogations into the
presence of lesbians in the WAC. The men in charge of the
investigation, Lt. Col. Birge Holt and Capt. Ruby E. Herman, set up strict
psychiatric screenings for incoming WAC privates in hopes to weed out the women
they deemed to be lesbians, while also putting quotas in place for their investigative
team, hoping they would find and discharge a certain number of lesbians who had
already infiltrated the WAC. In one message sent back to Washington, Col.
Howard Clark wrote:
“These women don’t wear arm bands, they are not branded on
the forehead, they all look alike, the decent women and the bad ones, you can’t
tell them apart, until you catch them in the overt act.”
investigation officially ended in August of 1944, its effects reverberated
throughout the rest of the war, and some may argue for the rest of the Women’s
Army Corp’s existence. You can read more about lesbians’ place in World War II
and how the WAC affected lesbian culture and slang in Coming Out Under Fire :
the History of Gay Men and Women in World War II by