During Women’s History Month, today’s #VeteranOfTheDay is Army Veteran Mary Rasmuson, the fifth director of the Women’s Army Corps.
Mary Rasmuson was born in April 1911 in East Pittsburgh. She graduated from Carnegie Mellon University with her bachelor’s degree in education and later received her master’s degree in school administration from the University of Pittsburgh. Rasmuson worked as an assistant principal before applying to join the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). She had two brothers who went into the service and saw no reason why women could not serve as well. After undergoing an extensive selection process, Rasmuson became one of the 440 members of the first WAC class in 1942.
Rasmuson trained at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, where she completed a six-week program that combined basic training and officers’ instruction. During this time, Rasmuson learned military operations, discipline and how to manage personnel. Women initially only received specialized direction in either motor transport, cooking, administration or the signal corps. However, educational options expanded in World War II to include arms training, which Rasmuson received when she promoted.
Beginning in 1943, Rasmuson served as the Director of the WAC Training Center at Fort Des Moines, where she supervised recruits until 1946. Following World War II, she travelled to Washington, D.C., and helped draft legislation concerning the integration of the Women’s Army Corps, Army Nurse Corps and the Women’s Medical Specialist Corps. The bills faced significant resistance from members of Congress, who thought women should remain domestic caregivers. At every opportunity, Rasmuson attempted to convince officials of women’s value and strength. Rasmuson continued to fight for women’s equality as WAC’s deputy director and staff advisor to the Army’s commanding general in Europe.
From 1952 to 1956, Rasmuson’s role as advisor took her across Europe, where she met women from numerous WAC units, spoke with them and informed them of the Army’s plans to retain female personnel after the Korean War. She recalled during this time how WACs would organize youth programs to help children whose homes were destroyed in the conflict. They would play with them and teach them embroidery skills to give them hope.
In 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Rasmuson to be the fifth director of the WAC. President John F. Kennedy reappointed her in 1961. That same year, she married Elmer Rasmuson. In July 1962, Rasmuson retired from the Army after 20 years of service.
She received a Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters during her service, which included her efforts to integrate Black women. She also received a World War II Victory Medal, a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps Service Medal, an Army of Occupation Medal, a National Defense Medal and an American Campaign Medal.
Rasmuson passed away in July 2012 at the age of 101.
We honor her service.
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Veterans History Project
This #VeteranOfTheDay profile was created with interviews submitted to the Veterans History Project. The project collects, preserves, and makes accessible the personal accounts of American war Veterans so that future generations may hear directly from Veterans and better understand the realities of war. Find out more at http://www.loc.gov/vets/.
Writer: Hannah Randolph
Editor: Katherine Berman
Fact checker: Carl Wesseln
Graphic artist: Katie Rahill