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Session 3: Women in War

This session focuses on how women in North Carolina contributed to both domestic and foreign military efforts throughout the state’s history. These articles first appeared in the Tar Heel Junior Historian Association magazine. 

Legendary Women

--by Tom Belton

The American Revolution was fought not only by armies. Everyone who lived in the colonies was part of the war for independence. North Carolina’s women contributed and suffered much for both sides of the war.

At that time, the population of North Carolina was mostly rural. Men lived with their wives and families on farms. Like women everywhere in those days, the farmers’ wives--and all the women in the household--had established roles within the family. A woman’s life centered on her family and home. Even the few women who worked away from their own homes for pay performed work expected only of women--cooking, washing clothes, sewing, caring for children and the sick, and tending gardens. [See http://www.contemplator.com/history/revwomen.html for more information on women's lives during this era.]

The American Revolution caused big changes in all the colonies. For women, the war created responsibilities and demanded decisions and actions not previously considered. As tensions grew among the colonists about how the British government was threatening them, North Carolinians divided into three groups: the Loyalists, the Patriots, and those who did not take a stand either for or against independence. The last group included pacifists like the Moravians and Quakers, who were neutral because of their deeply held religious objections to war. Each group had women who served and suffered during the Revolution. Here are some of their stories.

Flora MacDonald

The most famous Loyalist was Flora MacDonald. She was known as a heroic woman in Scotland before she ever came to North Carolina. When in Scotland, she had saved the life of "Bonnie Prince Charlie"--Charles Stuart, whose grandfather had been king of England and Scotland. Charles had started a rebellion in Scotland in an effort to regain the throne. At the bloody Battle of Culloden in 1746, his army was defeated and he was almost captured by the enemy British soldiers. Flora MacDonald helped him to escape.

In 1774, Flora MacDonald and her husband, Allan, came to North Carolina with their family. Before they were allowed to make the voyage from Scotland, they had to take an oath, along with all the other Highlanders from Scotland, that they would remain forever loyal to the British Crown

Painting by Allan Ramsay

The MacDonald family settled on a plantation called Killiegray in Anson County. In 1776, the royal governor, Josiah Martin, formed an army to fight the revolutionary movement. Allan MacDonald became a major in that army. Along with his son and son-in-law, he was part of the 1,600 North Carolina troops who marched off to the coast to join British troops.

Before the army left, Flora MacDonald, riding a beautiful white horse, came to the camp to cheer the men on. She called to them to fight bravely and remain loyal to the king. She rode with them during their first day’s march and spent the night with them before returning home.

On February 27, 1776, the Loyalists were soundly defeated by the Patriot militia at Moore’s Creek Bridge near Wilmington. Major MacDonald, their son, and their son-in-law were taken captive. Courageously, Flora MacDonald visited and comforted the families of others whose men had been killed or captured.

The Revolutionary state government seized Killiegray, and Flora MacDonald was left homeless and nearly penniless. She eventually returned to Scotland, where she was reunited with her husband after a separation of nearly six years. When she died in 1790, nearly 4,000 friends and neighbors came to honor the courageous Scotswoman at her funeral.

Click on the following Web site links to learn more about Flora MacDonald: 

Flora MacDonald: “The Bright and Particular Star”

Women in History of Scots Descent

Mary Dowd

Another Loyalist who lost her home and land was Mary Dowd. Mary Dowd was as strong a Loyalist as her husband, Connor Dowd. The wealthy Connor Dowd continued his Loyalist activities after the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge, organizing a small, mounted army to join British general Charles Cornwallis, who was on his way to North Carolina. Although it did not fight with Cornwallis, Dowd’s army did fight the Patriots. The Dowds’ son was killed, and Connor fled to the British forces at Wilmington.

The revolutionaries then seized and sold his property in Cumberland County. Dowd went to England in August 1782, leaving his wife and ten children behind on their property in Chatham County. Within three months, the Revolutionary court seized the Dowd property in Chatham County as well. The General Assembly passed a special law that permitted Mary Dowd to bring legal action in her own name to collect some of the money owed to her husband. At the same time, she was actively trying to arrange for her husband’s return. Connor Dowd returned in 1783, and he made a number of trips across the ocean in the years following. For the rest of her life, Mary Dowd saw the steady loss of all the land her husband had owned before the Revolution, land that was seized or sold to satisfy the debts Connor Dowd had made in support of the Loyalist side.

Elizabeth Cornell Bayard

Another woman Loyalist, Elizabeth Cornell Bayard, helped to "make law" in North Carolina. Her father, a wealthy merchant in New Bern, had deeded some property to his daughter. But since he was a Loyalist, his property was seized under the state’s laws that permitted the confiscation of property to raise money to fight the Revolution. Some of his property was sold at auction to a man named Spyers Singleton. Elizabeth Bayard brought a lawsuit in the state court to get the property back from Singleton. The state supreme court decided in 1787 that the laws under which the property had been seized were not allowed by the state constitution of 1776. The case of Bayard v. Singleton helped to establish the right of the courts to consider whether an act of the legislature was permitted by a constitution.

There were many heroic Patriot women in North Carolina during the Revolution as well. One North Carolinian led what has been called the "earliest known. . . political activity on the part of women" in America. A few months after the Boston Tea Party, a group of fifty-one women in Edenton signed a public proclamation that they would not drink any tea or wear clothes made from British cloth. The first reaction was to ridicule their action. A London newspaper published a caricature of the "Edenton Tea Party." James Iredell, later a justice of the United States Supreme Court, received a letter from his brother Arthur in London asking a sarcastic question: "Is there a female Congress in Edenton too?" But this public call for women to support the Revolution had an effect. The message was heard. Women brought out their unused spinning wheels and looms and made their own cloth instead of buying British-made goods. Women collectively declared their independence from English imports.

Betsy Dowdy

In the winter of 1775, Virginia’s royal governor, Lord Dunmore, was preparing an attack on the Albemarle Sound region in North Carolina. He wanted to seize the many fine horses in the area for his own soldiers. The only Revolutionary soldiers in the area strong enough to stop the assault were commanded by General William Skinner in Perquimans County. When sixteen-year-old Betsy Dowdy heard of Lord Dunmore’s plans, she rode her pony, Black Bess through the cold December night to General Skinner’s headquarters with the information. Skinner immediately sent his troops to meet Lord Dunmore’s army. The story of the fifty-one-mile ride of Betsy Dowdy and how she saved the horses is an endearing legend among North Carolina storytellers.

Mary Slocumb

Another North Carolina legend is about the Patriot Mary Slocumb at the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge. One day in February 1776, she watched her husband, Ezekiel, ride off with a Patriot army toward certain battle. The next night she dreamed she saw "a body wrapped in my husband’s guard-cloak--bloody--dead." She left her bed, mounted her horse, and rode all night. When daylight came, she had ridden more than thirty miles and had arrived at Moores Creek, where she heard the thunder of cannon.

Riding blindly toward the sound of firing, she came to a cluster of trees where about twenty wounded men were lying. One body was wrapped in her husband’s cloak. She uncovered the head and saw a face "clothed with gore from a dreadful wound across the temple." The bloody face was warm and "an unknown voice begged for water." She brought him some water, washed his face, and discovered it was not her husband! She cleaned and dressed the man’s terrible wounds, then stayed for hours moving among the other wounded nursing them. Then she related: "I looked up, and my husband, as bloody as a butcher. . . stood before me." He had been in a company that had chased the enemy troops across the creek and helped the Patriots win the battle. Knowing her husband was alive, she continued caring for the wounded, and in the middle of the next night, she mounted her horse and again rode alone through the night to reach her home and baby. 

This gourd dipper reportedly hung from Polly Slocumb’s saddle on her famous ride.

The North Carolina Museum of History has a gourd that, according to legend, was used by Mary Slocumb to give water to the wounded when she nursed them through the night at Moores Creek Bridge. At the battle site is a statue that honors Mary Slocumb and the other women who bravely helped in the Revolutionary War.

See https://www.nps.gov/mocr/index.htm for a history of the Battle of Moores Creek Bridge, including a section on Slocumb’s legendary ride.  

Margaret Gaston

Margaret Sharpe came to North Carolina from England and married Dr. Alexander Gaston of New Bern. She and her husband were ardent Patriots and bitter enemies of the Loyalists. Alexander Gaston served as a member of the Committee of Safety and as captain of a Patriot volunteer company. In August 1781, a troop of Loyalists raided New Bern. They cruelly and vengefully killed Dr. Gaston as his wife knelt, begging them to spare his life. Aiming the muskets over her shoulder, the Loyalists shot him through the heart, then threatened that "the rebel should not have even the rest of the grave." Margaret Gaston protected his body with hers until they rode away and she could give him a proper burial.

The courageous woman stayed on in her adopted homeland, raised their children alone, and wore the black of mourning for her husband for the rest of her life. Because of her courage and suffering, the people of New Bern honored her as a Patriot of the Revolution.

Elizabeth Maxwell Steele

After the Battle of Cowpens, Patriot general Nathanael Greene was in North Carolina trying to unite his army to attack and defeat British general Charles Cornwallis’s army. General Greene had ridden alone toward Salisbury and arrived at an inn late at night, rain-soaked, dirty, and exhausted. A Patriot army doctor met him at the door and expressed his concern. The general replied: "Yes--fatigued--hungry--alone, and penniless!"

The innkeeper, Elizabeth Maxwell Steele, overheard his comment. She laid a meal before him, then carefully closed the door and told him she had overheard his words as he came in. She drew two bags full of money from under her apron, perhaps her earnings of years, and said to the general, "Take these, for you will want them, and I can do without them." He was so grateful for the Patriot’s support for the fight for independence that he took a portrait of King George III from the wall and wrote on the back of it: "O, George, hide thy face and mourn." Then he replaced it with the face to the wall. Greene went on to the battle against Cornwallis at Guilford Courthouse.

Artist's depiction of Elizabeth Maxwell Steele giving Nathaniel Greene a bag of gold and silver at Salisbury.

Religious pacifists were not protected by their neutrality in the war. Both the Loyalists and the Patriots frequently seized food and livestock from Quaker and Moravian families. Pacifists were also heavily taxed to raise money for military supplies. In spite of the way many pacifists were treated, the women were heavily involved in the war. For example, after the Battle of Guilford Courthouse, Quaker women volunteered to nurse the wounded of both sides.

One Quaker woman, Hannah Blair, felt sympathy for the Patriot cause. She secretly helped those soldiers as much as she could without going against her religion. She provided food and medicine, hid the soldiers when necessary, carried secret messages, and mended uniforms. When the Loyalists found out, they burned her farm. After the war, the new government gave her formal thanks and a small pension for her wartime services.

The sufferings and contributions of women to the war for independence are not well known. Inconsistent record keeping and the military nature of remaining records often leave the contributions of women out of history.

See http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvets.html for stories of more women actively involved in the Revolutionary War.

Sewing for the Confederacy

--by R. Jackson Marshall III

In May of 1861, North Carolina left the Union and joined the Confederate states. Men joined together to drill, march, and listen to patriotic speeches. Women joined together and worked to help the men prepare for war. Across the state women prepared spinning wheels and looms for use in making thread and cloth. Raleigh women gathered in the basement of a Baptist church and made 1,500 mattresses, 600 towels, 400 shirts, 300 uniform jackets, 200 pants, and 200 haversacks for North Carolina soldiers. In every community the women prepared to do their part to win the war.

After the war began, the Confederate government could not make enough clothing for the soldiers in the army. The North Carolina legislature passed a law allowing the governor to create a quartermaster’s department to supply clothing to North Carolina soldiers. The quartermaster made contracts with textile mills to make thread, yarn, and cloth. Then he made contracts with women in the state to make uniforms from the cloth made in the mills. 

Pincushion used by Fanny Waddell of Nash County, 1863-1865

Sometimes North Carolina women organized soldiers aid societies. They gathered in homes and churches to sew uniforms and knit socks. They earned about $3.00 for making an overcoat, $2.00 for a jacket, $1.00 for a pair of pants, 50 cents for a shirt or pair of socks, and 15 cents for a pair of underwear for the soldiers. With most of the men at war, these contracts soon became the only source of income for many families.

Women in the state worked hard making clothes for the troops. But the supply of clothing did not keep up with the thousands of North Carolinians going into the army. Governor Zebulon B. Vance worried that the North Carolina soldiers were going to suffer during the winter without enough clothing and blankets. In 1862 he asked the people of the state to help the troops. He wrote, "The articles most needed. . . are shoes, socks, and blankets, though drawers, shirts, and pants would be gladly received. [I]f every mother in North Carolina would knit one strong pair of either heavy cotton or woolen socks for the army they would be abundantly supplied." Then he wrote, "[I]f you have anything to spare for the soldier, in his name I appeal to you for it. Remember when you sit down by the bright and glowing fire that the soldier is sitting upon the cold earth [and] shivering in darkness on the dangerous outpost."

The women in the state did what the governor asked. They gathered extra clothing, and they cut up their carpets to make blankets. In the following months, the governor received hundreds of boxes of clothing from women across the state.

During the last years of the war, it became more difficult to make clothing for the army. By 1863 the machinery in the textile mills began to wear out. There was a severe shortage of cotton cards. Cotton cards were tools used to get cotton ready for spinning into thread. Because there was no thread, there was little sewing. Without yarn, knitting was impossible. Uniforms were left unfinished because there were no buttons. The soldiers had to wait months before they received the clothing they needed. The governor received dozens of letters from women asking for supplies to make clothing.

Sacrifices were made again and again to provide clothing for the soldiers. The South ran out of men, food, and supplies. Finally in April 1865, the South surrendered. The men put down their rifles and stopped fighting. The women, in turn, put down their needles and quit sewing for the Confederacy.

Go to http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/60484.htm and http://score.rims.k12.ca.us/activity/manswar/ for detailed Internet lesson plans on women's roles in the Civil War; see http://docsouth.unc.edu/imls/texts.html and https://explore.lib.virginia.edu/exhibits/show/hearts for more information on women's lives during this turbulent period.

Did you know. . . 

Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock cut her hair, donned men’s clothing, and enlisted with her husband in the Confederate army on March 20, 1862, becoming North Carolina’s only known female Civil War soldier. The Blalocks, unionists from Watauga County, planned to desert to Federal lines. After several weeks, desertion proved more difficult than they had anticipated, so they opted for another way out. Keith Blalock gave himself a rash and was discharged, at which time Malinda, who had been posing as Keith’s brother Sam, revealed her identity. They returned to the mountains, joined a group of deserters, and engaged in raids and personal vendettas against Confederates for the remainder of the war. During one skirmish, Malinda was wounded in the shoulder. In a similar incident, Keith was blinded in one eye. After the Civil War, the Blalocks lived quiet, settled lives with their four children. Malinda Blalock died of natural causes in 1901.

See https://www.ncdcr.gov/blog/2014/08/11/keith-and-malinda-blalock-couple-in-confederate-service for more information about and a photograph of Malinda Blalock.

On the Outskirts: North Carolina Women in World War I

--by Vivian Lea Stevens

During World War I, North Carolina women made major contributions to the war effort by working in a variety of volunteer organizations. One of the largest was the American Red Cross. One Red Cross worker with ties to North Carolina was Suzanne Breckinridge Hoskins.

This Red Cross poster from 1917 shows a nurse holding a wounded soldier. Its caption, pleading for the American public to join the Red Cross, reads "The Greatest Mother in the World -All You Need is a Heart and a Dollar."

Like most young women volunteering for service, Hoskins probably had visions of nursing sick and wounded soldiers near the frontline trenches. But the Red Cross had other plans for her. She was assigned to work with the Children’s Bureau in France. Arriving in France in October of 1917, Hoskins settled into her work as chief nurse at Evian-les-Bains, a resort on the border of France and Switzerland on the banks of Lake Geneva. She described her accommodations to her sister:

"We are on the beautiful lake, in a quaint little town of Evian. It is a summer resort, the wonderful baths of Evian. . . The A.R.C. has taken over this, oh really splendid property--Hotel Chatillet. The hotel is to be the hospital and the [staff] cottages the nurses homes. . . We will not open before [the middle of] November. The refugees come in at certain times--one thousand at a time--then there is a rest--and then again they come--a thousand again--old men, women, and children--poor, poor children."

The refugees were sent to Hoskins’s hospital from German prisons and war-torn regions of France and Belgium. Many of the children had lost their homes, had been separated from their parents, and had only the clothes they were wearing. 

Suzanne Hoskins, front, standing outside a Red Cross ambulance. Photo courtesy Greensboro Historical Society.

Drawings were often a part of Hoskins’s letters to her sister. On November 24, 1917, she described one of the children she helped: "Another, a fat little gentleman of five--very much rolled up in an immense tippet--He very determinedly blinked away his tears and when I got him unpacked, I said ‘Well--how do you do, sir?’ He dimpled up at me and said, ‘Oui, Madame!’ very heartily."

Hoskins and her staff provided these children with basic medical care as well as warm clothes and a clean bed. "Our part of the game is this, here on the border to get all sick and diseased children and to care for them--to keep disease from the entire country of France--we have scarlet fever, diphtheria, measles, mumps, chicken pox, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and many feet tired out."

In addition to her work at Evian-les-Bains, Hoskins worked at La Choux, where she was responsible for setting up a children’s hospital. She and the staff helped care for 175 children. When she first arrived there, the head of the hospital, Dr. Lamb, wanted to examine every child thoroughly. Hoskins wrote her sister of the event:

"Now, there were no cards or numbers made out, no numbers on beds and nobody was sure which child was which. So we lined up 90, had 90 physicals, 90 cards made out which took from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The next day we did 85, and then 175 beds were numbered and names assigned. Then came the dentist and his assistant who worked for three days from 10 until 5, until every tooth was examined, filled, pulled, or cleaned. Then the throat specialist and his assistant came to check the children. If this were not enough, there were three meals a day out under the trees, the line-up at 8:30 each a.m. for throat examinations, toothbrush drill, etc. Getting a place like this [organized] is some job!"

Hoskins and the nurses she supervised performed an important job in caring for the children of war-torn France. These children needed the skilled care that the nurses could provide. Hoskins wished to be at the front and often commented on this in letters to her sister. But she never got a chance to work with wounded soldiers before she returned home in 1919. After the war was over, Hoskins wrote an article for Ladies’ Home Journal based on her experiences. She titled it "On the Outskirts: The Diary of a War-Baby Nurse." The title makes it seem that Hoskins felt she had been on the fringes of war work and that her job had not been that important. Yet the sick, cold, and hungry children she helped would have strongly disagreed with her. Hoskins and the nurses who worked with her played a small but vital role in helping France and Belgium survive the destruction of World War I.

Click on http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvets4.html for more information on how American women served in World War I. Go to http://www.redcross.org/museum/history/ww1a.asp to learn more about Red Cross nurses in World War I.

Westray Battle Boyce: The Story of a WAC 
--by Tom Belton

What jobs did American women hold in the United States military as soldiers, sailors, or marines when World War II started? None. The military establishment was an all-male organization, although women were employed as civilian nurses in military hospitals.

War in Europe brought changes. The United States government began thinking about letting women voluntarily join the military in case of war. This change in the government’s attitude caused much controversy. What could women possibly do in the military during a war? One anxious congressman who opposed the idea bluntly asked, "Who will do the cooking, the washing, the mending, the humble homey tasks to which every woman has devoted herself?" In other words, he believed that allowing women to enter any branch of the military would destroy American homes.

Women served in all branches of the military during WWII. These women were WASPs: Women's Air Force Service Pilots. From  their formation in 1943 until their dismissal in Decemeber 1944, WASPs flew nearly 60 million miles for the Army Air Forces. The WASPs in this photo served at Camp Davis, North Carolina. They were part of a target-towing squadron that helped train air-to-air and ground-to-air gunners. US Army photo.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor ended much of the debate. America needed all the help it could get to move huge quantities of men and supplies all over the world. On May 15, 1942, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed a bill that created the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). Women who joined the corps performed a variety of noncombat tasks formerly done by male soldiers needed for combat. Women drove military vehicles; rigged parachutes; served as translators, cooks, weather forecasters, and aircraft control tower operators. Nevertheless, many male soldiers did not like or accept women in uniform. The WAAC’s auxiliary status also meant that corps members were not part of the regular army organization--they were paid less than male soldiers, and they received no military benefits.

Even if the picture was not perfect, thousands of women rushed to join the WAAC. Some viewed it as a patriotic duty. Others saw it as an adventure that allowed them to travel, meet new people, and learn new job skills.

One enlistee from North Carolina was Westray Battle Boyce. A Rocky Mount native and working mother, Boyce had moved to Washington, D.C., during the 1930s to work as an administrator for the federal government. When the war erupted, Boyce enlisted in the WAAC in 1942 and became a member of the corps’s first officer candidate class at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, the "woman’s West Point." Working at this old army post and living in former cavalry stables along with other women officer candidates, Boyce reflected the qualities typically found in the WAAC throughout the war. Her educational level and intelligence, ranked by the Army General Classification Test, exceeded those of her male counterparts in the army.

Boyce’s natural abilities appeared in her war record as well. After completing officer training, Boyce moved quickly through the military ranks. Starting as a training officer at Fort Des Moines, she soon moved into another field because of her administrative skills. In 1942 she traveled south to Atlanta, Georgia, and became the WAAC staff director of the Fourth Service Command. This appointment meant a very big breakthrough for women in the army at that time. It marked "the first time a woman had ever served on a service command military staff." Westray Battle Boyce, then a captain, controlled all WAAC officers and enlisted personnel in seven southeastern states, including North Carolina--and she had been in the WAAC for less than one year.

Staff director Boyce’s work brought her intense public and military scrutiny. Newspaper reporters recognized a good story and wrote countless articles about this "gentle-voiced, quiet-mannered lady from the Fighting South" with the formidable name. Westray shrewdly used the newspapers to improve the public’s view of women in the armed service. Too often WAACs were seen as tough, unattractive women who had stepped outside of their proper place, the home. Westray’s professionalism, petite size, and "charm and femininity" destroyed that image of a woman soldier. She knew it and used the publicity to defend and promote the work of her agency.

From 1942 until the end of the war, Boyce paraded the accomplishments of women soldiers before the American public. She knew that the excellent character, education, and work of corps members "removed all doubt, and proved once and for all that there is an important place for women in war." Writing to her aunt in Rocky Mount in 1944, Boyce spelled out her feelings.

"The women of America who answered their country’s call are among the outstanding women of our country . . . Few of them were career women or won fame in civilian lives and occupations"

". . . But. . . there is nothing small about her background now nor her job. The WAR is her hometown. The WAR is her job. And she is fighting it just as grimly, just as gamely and just as gloriously as is her soldier brother."

"These . . . WACs are of the cut and caliber of the great pioneer women of America who suffered the covered wagon . . . trail because the way lay ahead and the cause was great. They are worthy of the new chapter they are writing in that saga of American women."

Boyce’s dedication earned increased recognition from her male military superiors. In 1943 Boyce was transferred overseas to the North African theater of operations, promoted to lieutenant colonel, and attached to the staff of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. She supervised more than 2,000 WAACs as their staff director.

Boyce first reported to General Mark Clark, a tall combat veteran, who surveyed the five-foot two-inch Boyce and quipped, "I asked for a whole WAAC, not a half of one." Boyce’s work and the work of all the overseas WAACs quickly impressed Clark and Eisenhower. Eisenhower, convinced that effective administration of his theater of operations was impossible without them, soon requested additional WAACs for his staff.

While Boyce served in Africa, a big change occurred in the women’s auxiliary army. In 1943 President Roosevelt and Congress changed the WAAC into the WAC--the Women’s Army Corps. This meant that women soldiers became part of the regular army, with full military benefits for the duration of the war. The old WAAC organization disbanded, but more than 75 percent of the WAACs stayed in the WAC. Westray Battle Boyce did, too.

American successes in North Africa were followed by the invasion of Italy. Many WACs moved into the new Mediterranean theater of operations after the American advance was secure. Boyce monitored the WACs in Italy and in North Africa. She described the WACs in Italy in a 1944 article, noting that the first WACs sent there "were particularly pleased because they knew they would be the first women soldiers to set foot on the continent of Europe." Some operated mobile switchboards, lived in tents, and earned the nickname of "the up-forwardest WACs" because they served so close to the front lines.

Lieutenant Colonel Boyce’s work as staff director did not go unnoticed. Shortly after she returned to the United States for a new assignment in August 1944, Boyce received the Legion of Merit for her "stirring leadership" and "outstanding service" while overseas. She was the first woman in the WAC to receive this honor.

Back in Washington, D.C., Boyce represented the WAC in the War Department. The following year, on May 24, 1945, Lieutenant Colonel Boyce became deputy director of the corps, working under the WAC director Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby. Less that two months later Colonel Hobby resigned her office. Boyce succeeded her as director of the WAC on July 13, 1945, with the rank of colonel, the highest rank available in the WAC.

Colonel Boyce’s leadership received a thorough workout. The approaching end of World War II brought the question of demobilization before the War Department. The huge army of men needed to be reduced, but what about the 100,000 WACs scattered around the world? A crisis developed as two opposing camps emerged. Some men and women wanted the WAC to remain a part of the army. The majority of men and women did not. Boyce studied the arguments on both sides before reaching a decision. She agreed that the WAC had proved itself during the war. She tartly stated that "the Director of the WAC does not consider it her function to comment upon the Army’s need, beyond pointing out that the usefulness of women members in a wartime army is no longer a matter of speculation."

Other WACs, anxious to return to civilian life, pushed for a complete and immediate end to the WAC. Boyce decided that rapid demobilization of the WAC would be best but that an inactive reserve unit should be retained in peacetime America. 

Westray Battle Boyce, seated with her pilot, Flight Officer Don Merrifield, during a visit to Luzon in the Phillipines in October 1945. US Army photograph.

While Boyce wrestled with demobilization plans, she continued her other administrative duties, including a tour of WAC installations in Europe, Japan, and the southwest Pacific. During Boyce’s absence on this trip the deputy director attempted to implement total demobilization of the WAC. Boyce cut her trip short when she heard the news and returned to Washington to face the issue.

The problem was resolved in 1946 by the War Department. A change in its personnel occurred when Eisenhower and other leaders from the European theater of operations assumed control of the department. Eisenhower knew firsthand what a good job the WAC had done. Hewanted to keep the corps, and his wishes carried a lot of weight. Boyce’s plan for a reserve unit was rejected in favor of securing legislation that would make the WAC a permanent part of the army. On June 12, 1948, President Harry Truman signed the integration act that merged the WAC with the regular army.

Boyce did not remain in the WAC long enough to participate in the new peacetime organization. Ill health forced her resignation on May 5, 1947. Eisenhower wrote her in March, shortly before she stepped down as director. He complimented her work as a member of his headquarters staff in Africa and Italy and added that she had "capably formulated and implemented plans for the demobilization of the Corps, and for its orderly conversion from a wartime organization to one with a peacetime mission. The patience, initiative and wisdom which you have devoted to these tasks are evidence of your sterling leadership."

Westray Battle Boyce died on January 31, 1972. She was buried in the Battle family graveyard in Edgecombe County. Before her death she donated her wartime portrait as director of the WAC to the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, along with her service medals and ribbons. The state is proud to honor the memory of this North Carolina woman who served her country so well during World War II.

For more information about the WAC, go to http://userpages.aug.com/captbarb/femvets5.htmlhttp://www.army.mil/cmh-pg/brochures/wac/wac.htm, and https://www.army.mil/women/history/wac.html.

Evelyn B. Whitlow, Nurse and POW

 

 

The Whitlow family of Leasburg in Caswell County saw six (four sons and two daughters) of their twelve children in military service during World War II. Evelyn B. Whitlow was the first of the family to join the military. In May 1940 she joined the Army Nurse Corps (ANC) as a second lieutenant. Whitlow was serving as a nurse in the Philippines when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. She was among the eighty-one army and navy nurses captured following the fall of the Philippines on May 7, 1942. Known as the Angels of Bataan and Corregidor, these nurses were the first group of American women taken as prisoners of war. For three years she remained in Santo Thomas, a Japanese internment camp outside Manila, until being liberated on February 3, 1945. After the war she left the ANC, married a fellow POW from Santo Thomas, and moved to California. Whitlow died at the age of 78 in 1994,

 

 

Food for thought...
  1. If the United States were to institute a draft, should women be included? If so, to what tasks should they be assigned?
  2. How did the change in women’s roles in World Wars I and II—both on the home front and in the military—affect their opportunities after the wars?
  3. Now that all combat roles are open to women, how do you think this will change the military? Why?
Assignment #3

Complete one of the following assignments:

Option 1: 
Using the above information as a resource for how North Carolina women have served the military throughout United States history, identify and interview at least one woman in your community who assisted in wartime efforts. These could include World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Gulf War. Write an article on your subject and her role during the war, or transcribe your oral history. Articles should be 800 to 1,000 words in length.

Option 2: (Choose this option if you are seeking technology credits for the course.) 
Create a WebQuest in Micrsoft Word (or HTML if you prefer) about women in wartime (either from North Carolina or from other areas, whichever better suits your curriculum) for your students. You may survey several wars or focus on one. Concentrate on women’s roles in the military and/or in supporting a war effort on the home front. Include (1) a brief description of what the students can expect at each Web site, (2) questions the students should answer after visiting each site and assignments based upon the material OR a larger activity based on the material such as a role playing lesson or creation of a period diary, and (3) other details you wish to include. 

For information about developing and examples of WebQuests, go to https://sites.google.com/site/creatingawebquest/. The WebQuest you prepare for this assignment can be very simple in format.

Submit your assignment via e-mail to: sally.bloom@ncdcr.gov.

Option 3: (Choose this option if you are seeking reading credits for the course.) 
Create a lesson plan appropriate for your curriculum in which your students compare personal narratives, letters, or oral history transcripts of women (two or more) involved in the same war or in different wars. The women can be involved either on the homefront or in the military itself. Have your students explore questions such as: 

  • How are the women's experiences different? How are they similar?
  • How do the women feel about the war and their roles in it? How can you tell from their words?
  • Did you enjoy reading the accounts? Which did you like best, and why?

Alternatively, compare women's and men's war experiences.

Personal accounts such as these can be found in books, archives, and, increasingly, on the Internet. Here are some Web sites to try.

Submit your assignment via e-mail to: sally.bloom@ncdcr.gov.

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