Full caption: Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Third Platoon, Company 1, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Photographer unknown, ca. August-September 1942. Oveta Culp Hobby Papers (container 14). Manuscript Division. LC-MS-26146-1. Full caption: Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, Third Platoon, Company 1, Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Photographer unknown, ca. August-September 1942. Oveta Culp Hobby Papers (container 14). Manuscript Division. LC-MS-26146-1.

On May 14, 1942, Congress passed legislation establishing the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), and just two months later the first 440 recruits reported to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for basic training, among them approximately forty African American women. The War Department and WAAC director Oveta Culp Hobby (1905-1995) had assured Congress that Negro WAAC officers and auxiliaries would constitute at least 10 percent of the corps, but aggressive recruitment at black colleges and the assistance of influential reformer and educator Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) were needed to attract enough qualified applicants to meet this quota and to dispel black women's fears of discrimination within the segregated armed services. The black press and civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, critical of the appointment of Hobby, a white southerner, carefully monitored the situation at Fort Des Moines and attempted to use the training facility as a test case to challenge the army's segregation policies. Some of the first African American women to be trained at Fort Des Moines, the women of the Third Platoon, Company 1, shown here with their commanding officer Capt. Frank Stillman, were in all likelihood part of either the first or second classes to graduate, respectively, on August 29 and September 11, 1942.

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