Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Emilie Raymond

Second Advisor

Dr. Brian Daugherity

Third Advisor

Dr. Francoise Bonnell


Countless studies exist examining President Harry S. Truman’s Executive Order 9981 mandating racial desegregation of the U.S. armed forces, though all singularly focus on the experiences of male soldiers in the twentieth century. This thesis examines how the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) training center at Fort Lee, Virginia implemented desegregation in 1950 in the midst of the Korean War with relative speed and tolerance. Determined through archival records including official WAC reports, photographs, newspapers, and nine newly conducted racially diverse oral history interviews with WAC veterans, I demonstrate how the Fort Lee training center became a physical and cultural “island of integration in an otherwise sea of segregation” in the Jim Crow South.[1] The WAC had distinct advantages to make for a rapid transition to desegregated training, namely too few enlisted black women to merit the continuance of segregated units at Fort Lee. Nonetheless, the bonding experiences of basic training helped ease lingering racial prejudices among the women, thus fostering a peaceful and unified community in which to train and live. A social history of this kind offers a much-needed expansion of the historiography by placing women at the forefront of military desegregation. Using oral history to examine the racial attitudes among female recruits and officers between 1948 and 1954, the following chapters analyze how the Fort Lee WAC training center underwent the critical transformation of segregated to integrated training at mid-century.

[1] “WAC Center Real Model: Stands out as Good Example of Integration,” Afro-American, August 4, 1951, “WACs at Camp Lee,” Box A151, Army Women’s Museum, Fort Lee, VA.


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