March 2015 Object of the Month
Philip Mohr, curator
Those of you who attended the VFW’s “Women in the Military” program in March of 2014 may have seen this uniform on display in the hallway. The Des Plaines History Center is always honored to bring some objects from the past to other organizations’ events.
Most of you are probably familiar with the WACs and WAVEs. Just like the Army and Navy, the Marines also called on the service of women during World War II. They did not have a special name, though. General Thomas Holcomb, retired Commandant of the Marine Corps, said, “They are Marines. They don't have a nickname and they don't need one. They get their basic training in a Marine atmosphere at a Marine post. They inherit the traditions of Marines. They are Marines.” Nevertheless, they were relegated to the Marine Corps Women's Reserve.
During WWII, Marine Corps bureaucracy was largely staffed by women in the reserve. Louise was stationed with the Quartermaster Corps at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from 1944 to 1946. She and the other women on the base mainly worked to ensure supplies flowed where needed in the European theater.
Women were expected to conform to military and feminine standards. Louise recalled that Helena Rubenstein, Inc., provided cosmetics to the Camp Lejeune base store. Women in the military could thus keep up feminine appearances. Uniforms themselves included a blouse, jacket, skirt, stockings or socks, and shoes. All of these were specially designed to maintain the distinction of men and women in uniform. Regulations allowed women to grow hair only to collar length. Military hierarchy was maintained with the title “sir” for officers of either gender.
In her own words, written to the History Center when she donated the uniform:
We had to put on a parade for Helena Rubenstein, who furnished the cosmetics for the base store. During the parade, one of the girls in the parade had pinned her hair under her hat since the hair was longer than the accepted length. During the parade, the hair did not remain pinned but fell out from under the hat. All of the women were inspected immediately following the parade due to this “embarrassing” incident. I was one of the girls whose hair was considered too long. As a result, I was punished by being called in for Extra Police Detail (E.P.D.). I had to scrub the black marks from the floors, doors, and other such surfaces. After completing the E.P.D., the Lieutenant called me to her office to inspect my hair. Before going to her office I had already shampooed and set my hair so it now appeared much shorter. The Lieutenant asked me to do an “about face.” She asked if I had cut my hair. I said, “no, sir.” The “sir” was used even with the women officers. She asked how come it was now short. I told her I had washed and set it. She said, “dismissed.” I still was angry due to receiving the detention. I never would buy Helena Rubenstein products after that.