Speech Before Giving Oath to Women Being Inducted into Marine Corps, (19 February 1943) Pittsburg, PA
Colonel Ruth Cheney Streeter was the first Director of the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve, serving from February 13, 1943 through December 7, 1945. She earned the Legion of Merit for “outstanding services” during World War II. The Marine Corps History Division credits Streeter for “[e]xercising judgment, initiative and ability.” She was also credited for rendering “distinctive service in directing the planning and organization of the Women’s Reserve of the Marine Corps and skillfully integrating women into the basic structure of the Corps.” In this role, she was also credited for selecting and training “replacements for men in shore establishments.”1 Major Streeter eventually earned the title of Colonel, the first woman to do so in the Marine Corps.
On February 14, 1943, the day following the activation of the Women’s Reserves, Major Streeter launched a national tour promoting the organization. She announced at her first press conference that the Reserves “would start recruiting 18,000 enlisted women and 1,000 officers.”2 The national recruitment tour, featuring Major Streeter and three aides, promised full salary benefits and upward mobility for enlisted women. On February 19, Major Streeter gave a speech before conducting the first mass induction into the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania at the William Penn Hotel.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran an article the following day (February 20) discussing the ceremony and Major Streeter’s speech. It includes the circumstances of the speech, the events leading up to the ceremony, and a synopsis of the Women’s Reserves and the event itself. The article makes clear that “women had served the marines in the last war” and it recounted a story Streeter’s told of a woman disguising herself “as a man” to fight “in the marine corps for three years in the War of 1812.” The article commended Major Streeter’s speaking ability and physical poise.3
One of Major Streeter’s aides during this tour, E. Louise Stewart, reflected on the event in the early summer of that year.4 She stated that the Marines expected the women recruits to know the traditions, rules, and courtesies of the Marines immediately, and recounted how worrying about exceeding expectations was a “source of gray hairs” for this first group of women.5 Stewart stated that on February 19, 1943, the “entire town [of Pittsburgh] was turned over to us.” The mayor proclaimed the 19th as “Marine Corps Day.” The women’s pictures were featured in newspapers and they were greeted and chauffeured around the city. Lieutenant Stewart recalled, “The evening climaxed when Major Streeter swore in thirty-three enlistees of outstandingly high caliber. Then, Cinderella-like, and still with motorcycle escort and farewell committee, we were whisked back to the train.”6 Lieutenant Stewart states that they were greeted warmly everywhere they went, never for themselves but “always because we bore the name and insignia of the Marines.”7
The importance of the Marines’ name was not lost on Major Streeter. Women reservists often had titles with a specific reference to their gender, such as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services) in the Navy.8 When asked at a press conference why the Marine Corps Women’s Reserves didn’t have a nickname, Major Streeter replied, “Well, we thought Marine was a pretty distinctive name.”9 In many of her public speeches and press releases, Major Streeter emphasized both the importance of the Women’s Reserves and their status as Marines. She was especially proud of the uniforms given to the Women’s Reserves—uniforms, she said, that were “designed” for “work” and strikingly similar to the men’s uniforms.10 Throughout the national tour, Streeter and her aides were outfitted in the Women’s Reserves uniforms of traditional Marine forest green and red trimmed hats.
According to the history of the Marines, there was “considerable unhappiness about making the Corps anything but a club for white men.” 11 The U.S. Marines had been the first to form a very small (305 members) women’s reserve in WWI and the last to do so in WWII. When the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve was activated in 1943, apathetic and even antagonistic sentiments were directed towards their service. The animosity toward their service began to lessen due to Major Streeter’s national tour and the publicity they generated in recruiting for the Women’s Reserves. In response to the work of the Women’s Reserves, General Thomas Holcomb, commandant of the Marine Corps, remarked in the March 1944 issue of Life magazine that, “There’s hardly any work at our Marine stations women can’t do as well as men. They do some work far better than men. What is more, they’re real Marines…. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere, at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of the Marines. They are the Marines.”12
Major Streeter’s address in Pittsburgh set the tone for the national tour and by the end of WWII, members of the Women’s Reserve were serving in 225 different specialties, filling 85 percent of the enlisted jobs at Headquarters Marine Corps, and comprising between one-half to two-thirds of the permanent personnel at Marine Corps posts.13
- “Col. Ruth Cheney Streeter,” U.S. Marine Corps History Division, n.d.
- “Marines to Enlist 19,000 Women Aides,” New York Times, February 14, 1943, 48.
- “32 Women Receive Oath as Marines,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 20, 1943, 4.
- Lieutenant E. Louise Stewart, “Shakedown Cruise,” Marine Corps Gazette (May – June 1943): 36-38.
- Ibid. Note: Lt. Stewart claims they enlisted 33 women, while the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states that it was 32.
- Stewart, “Shakedown Cruise,” 36-38.
- Also called WACS (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP), and the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard (SPARS).
- “Marines to Enlist 19,000 Women Aides.”
- “Women Marines Scorn Nickname,” New York Times, February 19, 1943, 10.
- Judy Barrett Litoff and David C. Smith, eds., American Women in a World at War: Contemporary Accounts from World War II (Wilmington, DE: Scholarly Resources, 1997), 67.
- Colonel Mary V. Stremlow, “Marine Corps Women’s Reserve: Free a Man to Fight,” in Defense of a Nation: Servicewomen in World War II, ed. Major General Jeanne M. Holm and Judith Bellafaire (Arlington, VA: Vandamere Press, 1998).