In the Spring of 2016, Valparaiso University’s Material Culture class studied artifacts from our collection, giving detailed historical context to some of our most unique and insightful artifacts. Thanks to Dr. Buggeln, Valparaiso University, the PoCo Muse collections volunteers, and the students for all the work and dedication put into this project.
The following research was compiled by Taylor Piotrowski:
Women of the War:
The Impact of the Women’s Marine Corps Uniform on Women in the 1940’s
In the second floor of the Porter County Museum, tucked in the back corner of the World War II exhibition, a mannequin wears a United States Marine Corps Women’s Reserve Uniform. The dressed mannequin, created in the likeness of the uniform’s former owner, Rosemary Kristoff–Swisher, gives off an aura of power as well as dignity. The uniform consists of five major pieces; a fitted olive green wool jacket, hat and skirt, as well as a shirt and tie both made out of tan linen. While the appearance presented a united front with the men, having been made of the same cloth and with the same lines, the same equality is not found outside of the fabric.
The single job most frequently held by Women Marines was that of a clerk typist, accounting for over 16% of all women who served (nps.gov). In fact, of the 17,666 total women who served in the Women’s Reserve, 10,279 of them served in some sort of clerical position. The jacket enforced the posture of the women Marines. Since most of them were spending a lot of their time sitting at a desk typing, good posture was a must. The stiff fabric prevented the women from slouching, whether at a desk or standing in a line up. This kept the women looking uniform and, well, military. This was important, not just to the women, but to the branches of the military as a whole.
For the first time, women were being allowed into the military, and with all the contention with the women joining the military, there wasn’t room for mistakes that would prove the doubters right. Maintaining the dignity and poise of these women was a small detail, but a crucial one. Making the women look professional in all areas countered the persistent notion that women’s place was just in the household. In fact, American women could be valuable in any branch of the military, even one as prestigious as the Marine Corps. It would seem that women’s status was advancing, and equality had been reached. However, advertisements designed to recruit women reveal a different story. For instance, a poster with “FREE A MARINE TO FIGHT” in bold text across the front shows the inequality that these women indeed faced. Rather than being in a pilot’s uniform or in charge of the planes in any way, the woman is instead holding a clipboard, lending to the idea that this woman isn’t there to do anything ‘important’ but rather, her position is merely a way for men to get the job done.