By Hudson River Museum
Portraits of 70 years ago, they are now an honored part of the Museum's permanent Collection. In 2012, the Museum displayed the 45 portraits in an exhibition alongside newly commissioned photographs of 12 contemporary soldiers from around the county.
As World War II raged, Yonkers women took a first-time chance to soldier for their country - they enlisted in the Women's Army Corps, the WACs. Before embarking for posts around the world, the Hudson River Museum joined forces with artist Francis Vandeveer Kughler and army officer Lt. Joanne Coates, to capture their likenesses in oil and pastel.
Starting the Trend
Lt. Joanne Coates traveled to New Jersey, Deleware, then on to Yonkers to sign up recruits and asked the Hudson River Museum to suggest artists to design recruitment posters. She got even more. Director H. Armour Smith and local artist Francis Vandeveer Kughler conceived an ambitious project to paint the portraits of Yonkers' enlistees to "ensure the future generations...have a living record of our fighting women." In November 1943 the Herald Statesman, a Yonkers newspaper, announced that every woman who enlisted before Pearl Harbor Day would have her portrait done. In fact, the Museum continued the project into 1945. At 40, Kugler, a Yonkers Art Association trustee, was too old for military service but he believed in the patriotic role of artists and waged battle with paint, pastel, and easel. LIFE photo collection caption: WACs parading during Saturday morning dress review.
Lieutenant Joanne Coates was the Woman's Army Corps Recruiter sent to Yonkers and other cities.
She studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and appreciated the power of art to promote her cause - enlisting women in the WAC movement. In her own WAC portrait, Kughler captured Coates’ charisma, which must have made her a very effective advocate. She worked in Yonkers until mid 1944, swearing in nearly half of the women in these pictures.
LIFE photo collection caption: Uniformed soldier leading column of suitcase carrying women in civilian clothing, newly inducted members of the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps, into Ft. Des Moines.
All in all, as many as 400,000 women were a part of the United States victory in World War II, the first time women were officially mobilized across all the armed forces.
Yonkers "Factory Girls" in the War Effort
World War II was the first time women were officially mobilized across all the armed forces first as part of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), the precursor to the WAC. In July of 1943, the transition from the WAAC to the WAC meant that the women soldiers were more fully integrated as a branch of the Army and recruitment efforts intensified. All in all, as many as 400,000 women were a part of the United States military victory in World War II. Many of the women had full-time jobs before enlisting. Factory workers, married women without children, grandmothers, too; white, African-American and first-generation Americans from Italy, Ireland, and Czechoslovakia, they joined the Women's Army Corps (WAC) at its announcement in 1943.
Millions of women entered the workforce during World War II. Rosemary Corbalis had a job in the Controller’s Office of the New York Central Railroad before she became a WAC. There was a big push for more women to fill men’s jobs in factories with government defense contracts. Some of those workers were part of this Yonkers group of WACs.
As a WAC, Corbalis worked in the medical corps and was deployed to Wiesbaden, Germany, at the end of the war.
Another working woman joining the war effort, Loretta Cahill had a job at Yonkers’ Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Company, where her father also worked at the local carpet factory as a weaver and loom fixer. One of her roles in the U.S. Army was an Air Traffic Controller. While in the Army she met and married Ward L. Kunz at Kearney Air Base on April 24, 1945.
Rachele Caione worked at GM Eastern Aircraft in Tarrytown before she enlisted. She spent part of the war stationed at Fort Slocum, New York.
The memorable image of “Rosie the Riveter” overshadows the historical reality of blue-collar labor for families with modest resources. Yonkers was a factory town and there had always been women in manual jobs, especially immigrants and first generation Americans. The war just meant that there were more openings and for a wider range of jobs than had previously been offered to women.
One of the earliest Army women in Yonkers, Mary Neary joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in January 1943—several months before it transitioned into the WAC. She went to Iowa for elementary training, where she and other WAAC enlistees received equipment, classification tests, and drill exercises. Then, they were shipped off for “more detailed military training preparing them to replace a man in a non-combat Army job.” For her, that was an airplane mechanic at Turner Field in Georgia.
After her WAAC service, Neary did inspections at Yonkers’ Habirshaw Wire and Cable factory (a division of Phelps Dodge) and acted as an air raid warden. Kughler painted her in October 1944, when she signed up with the WAC for another tour of duty. She wanted to return to her old job and continue servicing planes.
Factory jobs and air warden shifts were not the only ways to contribute to the war effort. Jean Logan, a Navy WAVE specialist 3rd class, had been a radio entertainer and so used her singing talent, along with others WAVEs, at a “Stay Home Night” in Hastings-on-Hudson. The federal government encouraged citizens to patronize entertainment close to home to conserve gas and tires and to keep transportation arteries free of non-essential traffic.
Prior to enlisting, Charlotte Harris was with Otis Elevator Company for three years. Not quite “Rosie the Riveter,” she worked in the offices.
Harris met her future husband, Sgt. Cletus Cauthen of the Army Air Forces, when they were both stationed at Shaw Field in Sumter, South Carolina. They were married at the Warburton Avenue Baptist Church in 1947.
Jeanette Henriques worked in Tarrytown at GM Eastern Aircraft before becoming a WAC. After basic training she was shipped to Indiana for Medical Technician School.
Marguerite Chase, like a few of the other Yonkers WACs, first worked at GM Eastern Aircraft in Tarrytown. But, a year after her brothers joined the armed forces, she “just wasn’t content to be safe at home working in an aircraft plant.”
She joined the WAC in January 1944, and became known as “a girl with a star-spangled heart.” She was assigned to Douglas Army Air Field, where she inspected B25 Mitchell bombers used in training. The Herald Statesman ran an article about Chase, with a photograph of her inspecting an airplane window.
Civil Rights were at a crossroads in the armed forces of World War II. Many aspects of living quarters and assignments were still segregated, yet the Army made an effort to recruit African American women and gave them many opportunities and rewards not yet offered in the civilian world.
The home front war effort encouraged some employers to offer opportunities to African-Americans. Marguerite Chase had a job exactly like this at the GM plant in Tarrytown.
LIFE photo collection caption: African American female riveter wearing kerchief on head & sitting on huge piece of machinery during WWII, perfectly illustrating "Rosie the Riveter"-type; at Lockheed Aircraft Corp.
World War II played a role in the Civil Rights Movement, although, once enlisted, many Black men and women found their duties still segregated.
Life photo collection caption: Women of all-black 6888th Central Postal Battalion sorting huge backlog of mail alongside French civilians to help postal system recover from devastation of WWII.
Abagail Bovshaw attended the Yonkers Defense School, designed to prepare women for wartime factory jobs. Prior to enlisting the Women’s Army Corps she worked with her father, who operated a grocery store in Riverdale. She was initially stationed at Fort Ogelthorpe, Georgia, where many WACs underwent basic training, and was later transferred to an Air Force unit at Colorado Springs.
Abigaile Webber Halley attended New York City’s Eastern Business School after high school but then worked for Otis Elevator Company during the first part of World War II. Otis was one the major employees in Yonkers.
Soon after enlisting in the WAC, she married her first husband, Thomas A. Halley, who had been fighting in the South Pacific. The wartime romance did not last, and they divorced in the next year.
Woman's Place in War
They worked as typists and mail sorters and as telephone and radio operators. They worked as weather observers and air traffic controllers, medical technicians, and nurses. There were 239 kinds of jobs for women in the military service. LIFE photo collection caption: Four American WACS arriving for duty at HQ of Lt. Gen. Mark Clark in Italy.
In a poster to promote the WAC as a career choice, the Army claimed to have 239 kinds of jobs for women. These ranged from typist and telephone operator to motor pool driver and code breaker. Anne Schall Bodian was a cryptographic operator (working with codes) at the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service in Virginia.
Anne grew up in Yonkers, but was married and working at the Home Owners Loan Corporation in New York City when the United States entered the war. Her husband, Sgt. Albert Bodian, was with the U.S. Army.
Working in France after D-Day, Virginia Nardy served as a telephone operator and received a Theater Certificate of Merit for her outstanding performance of duty.
Before enlisting as an Air-WAC with the Army Air Forces, she had been an active Air Raid Warden as part of the Office of Civilian Defense. Nardy was active in many clubs and activities, including the Yonkers Republicans and even the Yonkers Motorcycle Club.
Myra [Sessions] Zarcone recalls that she passed the WAC recruiting table every afternoon on the way home from work at the telephone company. Myra went to work after high school to help her mother support four daughters and two sons.
Deployed to Whitehorse, in Canada’s Yukon Territory, the private was put to work as a phone operator. Whitehorse was part of a route to ferry planes from Russia to the United States. She met her husband, military policeman Joseph Zarcone, when both were working the graveyard shift, and their union was celebrated as the “first WAC wedding” on the base.
Camille Olgee’s work in World War II inspired lifelong service in the American Legion as a commander of the Yonkers Women’s Post and Moses Taylor Post 136 in Mount Kisco.
Educated at Columbia and with a background in public relations, Olgee joined the American’s Legion’s “Pilgrimage for Peace.” which traveled to Europe in 1957 to strengthen the bonds of friendship and understanding among the nations. She stated “I’ve always been interested in both American Legion work and travel and I’m looking forward to this trip for opportunities to talk face-to-face with peace-loving people, the women especially, on our mutual problems.”
LIFE photo collection caption: Female soldiers carrying chaplain's equipment during bivouac training.
Lucretia Antonacci was one of the first WACs to have her portrait painted by Kughler. She enlisted into the Corps as an Air-Wac in 1943.
Antonacci was an Italian immigrant, born in 1922. Before the entering the service she worked in Yonkers at Alexander Smith Carpet Company, which had a defense contract during World War II to make cotton duck.
Elizabeth Kocis joined the Air-WAC and worked with her friend Camille Olgee at Mitchel Field in Long Island. Like some of the other WACs, she was an Air Raid Warden before enlisting.
She and her parents were recent immigrants, coming from the Czech Republic soon after 1920. She was an active member of the Slovak Circle, and was considered a linguist as she spoke Russian, Polish and Slavic.
Helen Harrison’s background and training as a nurse at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Yonkers made her a valuable asset for the WAC.
LIFE photo collection caption: US Army nurses arriving in the Middle East.
Jeanne Solimine was employed at Habirshaw Cable and Wire at the time of her recruitment. However, she was trained as a nurse, and had attended the Ballard School of Practical Nursing. Previously a member of the Red Cross, she resumed her medical career and served as an Army Surgical technician attached to the top secret 10th Mountain Division Winter Warriors, Camp Hope, Colorado.
Solimine received a Key to the City of Yonkers for her military service during World War II.
LIFE photo collection caption: American nurse Irene Steffens helping to unload gasoline cans from a C-47 transport plane.
With a background in nursing, Mary Kurilecz attended Surgical Technician School after basic training. Her brother was also in the Army, serving with the medical field. Prior to the War, she had attended the Cochran School of Nursing and worked at St. John’s Riverside Hospital.
Nearly half of all WACs, about 40,000 out of an eventual total of 100,000, worked for the Army Air Forces. Promotional booklets such as “Be an Air-WAC” influenced women like June Ewart to apply for that area of work. The air bases welcomed their assistance in stateside staffing so that men could be shifted to the fronts.
Prior to enlisting Ewart had graduated from Beauty Culture School in the Bronx and attended Business College in Connecticut.
"I want my brothers home again, thet's why I'm joining the WAC." - Pvt. Frances Depole The WAC was a path to adventure, travel, and new jobs for women but for Yonkers mothers watching their daughters depart for boot camps, some flying to jobs near the war fronts, new worry was added to their fears for soldier sons. In July 1944 the City of Yonkers honored the mothers with a tea at the Museum and a tour of the first exhibition of the WAC portraits. Advertisting the event, the Museum offered to help mothers make reel-to-reel recorded messages to send to those fighting abroad. LIFE photo collection caption: WAC making her bed after breakfast.
No stranger to sacrifice for her country, Dorothy Spaulding lost her soldier brother, Sgt. Ralph Spaulding, killed in action in October 1944, just a few months before she enlisted.
Their mother had died before the war, and before Spaulding signed up for the WAC, she was living at the Y.W.C.A. and working at the Commodore Restaurant in Yonkers. She told her enlistment officer “I chose the Medical Department because I feel that their need is the greatest and I can do more good there than anywhere else.”
When Irene Wrambel left her job at the Kress five and dime store to join the WAC in 1944, her brother, TSgt. Eugene Wrambel, was in the Army, stationed in South Dakota.
Frances Depole was sworn into the WAC the day before her younger brother Henry took his physical exam for the Army. Their brother Albert was already overseas. At time of her enlisting, Private Depole was quoted in the Herald Statesman as saying, “I want my brothers home again, that’s why I’m joining the WAC.” Tragically, Albert died in combat in Italy later that same year.
Prior to enlisting Frances Depole was employed by the North American Philips Company, Inc., in Dobbs Ferry. In 1949, she married Army veteran Frank Stangarone.
Jennie Lee’s husband, half-brother, and father were already part of the war effort when she joined in 1944. Her husband, was a warrant officer in the Merchant Marine; and her half-brother, William Robinson, Jr., was a Navy seaman serving abroad. Her father, Corporal Harry C. Green, was stationed in Virginia. She was first based at the Air Service Training Command Center.
Lee was born in Mount Vernon and moved to Yonkers as a child when her mother remarried. Before joining the service, she worked as a layout operator for the GM Eastern Aircraft Division in Tarrytown.
When Jane Mooney enlisted in 1944, her siblings, were already in the Army. Like many WACs, Mooney was first shipped out to Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, for training and job placement. She chose to join the Air-WACs, a division under the Army Air Forces, and worked as a clerk typist at Rosecrans Field, in St. Joseph, Missouri, only 75 miles away from her sister’s post in Topeka, Kansas.
On furlough she told the Herald Statesman, “Army life is wonderful...just tell the Yonkers girls to enlist and find out for themselves—they’ll love it too, just as every other WAC does.”
LIFE photo collection caption: WAC eating at mess hall.
Frances Emerson and her extended family gave their all for the war effort. When she enlisted in 1944, her husband, Pvt. Walter H. Emerson, Jr., was already an Army ambulance driver in England and all three of his brothers were also serving with the U.S. Army overseas. In 1945, her husband was a Nazi prisoner of war for several months, but released safely. Prior to enlisting with the WAC, she was an active member of the Red Cross in Yonkers.
On July 1, 1944, the Herald Statesman published an article encouraging families to strive for total participation in the war effort: “Army families join ‘All-out’ for Recruits.” The families of Dupree and Jane Mooney (also part of the Museum Collection) were both listed.
Dupree was working for the Atlantic & Pacific Tea Comapany in NYC when she enlisted, and had a brother enlisted as well. The following week was designated WAC week in Yonkers, with activities including the special programs for mothers whose daughters were serving overseas and stateside. Dupree’s mother, Mrs. Charles Mayerhofer, attended and was one of the mothers who went to Steadman’s Music Shop to record “voice letters” to their daughters. They then visited the Museum to see a display of the WAC portraits completed thus far.
In 1944, the Herald Statesman ran an article on the Topolosky family: “They’re Serving the Nation on Land, Sea and in the Air.” Her older brother, Michael fought with the Army infantry in the Battle of the Bulge and was reported missing in action. The Nazis had captured him but then released him after several months. Julie’s younger brother Joseph was a Navy seaman, and her WAC station was with the Army Air Forces, at Biggs Field, Texas.
There were eight Topolosky children. The eldest, Mary, had been born in Slovakia before the parents emigrated and was the mother of Yonkers WAC Marie O’Buck, also in the collection. In 1946, Julie married New Jersey Air Force veteran Harry Morere.
Half of the eight Quartarella children were in the military. Laura’s younger sister Nancy was also a WAC. Her brother Nicholas was in the Army Air Force and Thomas was in the Coast Guard. After World War II, she married Navy Sergeant Edward Chema, who became a rare three-war veteran, also serving in Korea and Vietnam.
Louise Bendick enlisted in the WACs in 1944, following the footsteps of her brother John, a Corporal who was first involved with chemical warfare in Italy, and later a fire-fighter in Germany. Before joining the service, Bendick was a working woman, employed by the Claremont Confectionary Store in Yonkers. In the Army she was stationed at Fort Slocum and in San Francisco, doing clerical work for the Transportation Corps.
Florence Wallace worked as a surgical technician in the WAC. Her brother, George B. Wallace, was also in the Army, serving with the Medical Corps. They were originally from New Hampshire.
While stationed at Camp Polk in Louisiana, she met her future husband, Arthur B. Winget, who spent five years in the Army, including serving in the Pacific Theater.
Retta (Henrietta) Shaefer was not the first in her family to join the war effort. Her brother was also in the Army, Pvt. Ross Shaefer of the Signal Corps in the South Pacific and her sister, Cpl. Nancy Shaefer, was a WAC with the Intelligence Department of the Army Air Forces.
Most of the Yonkers WACs had full-time jobs before they enlisted. Retta Shaefer left a position at Prudential Life Insurance Company. Like other Army women, she stated that she hoped their efforts would help end the war sooner.
When Nancy Quartarella enlisted, she had three siblings and a brother-in-law in the service; her older brothers served in Europe, and her older sister Laura was also a WAC, whose portrait appears in the collection.
Nancy was a beautician before the war, but in the WAC, trained as a medical technician. She told the Herald Statesman: “with so many members of my family in the service, I’m certainly happy to be one of them.”
Irene Crimmins was a Yonkers librarian before enlisting in the WAC in 1944. Her brother Col. Thomas R. Crimmins, was serving with the U.S. Army in India.
Lt. Catherine Perry administered the WAC enlistment oath to both Irene Crimmins and Retta Shaefer. Lt. Perry, the WAC recruiting officer who came to Yonkers after Lt. Coates transferred, asked the girls their reasons for their enlisting. Both answered that they hoped they would help end the war sooner. Crimmins added "I think if our grandmothers could go across the continent in covered wagons and help our men to settle this country, the least the women of this generation can do is enlist in the Army and stand behind our boys."
Calling all ages
WACs were required to be 21 to 45 years old, versus ages 18 to 37 for male soldiers. LIFE photo collection caption: Wacs Birthday, May 1945, by David E Scherman.
The age requirement for WACs was 21 to 45, and Yonkers recruits represented the full range of those years. Marie O’Buck was only 20, but women that young could join with their parents’ permission. Sworn in to the WAC on her birthday, she said, “I’m happy to be a member of the Army, because I think that that is where I can do the best for the good of the war effort.” She had family members serving: Joseph O’Buck, her brother, was stationed at Pearl Harbor, and her aunt, Julie Topolosky, was also a WAC.
Before enlisting, Marie O’Buck took an aeronautical program at the vocational high school in Yonkers, to prepare her for home-front factory work, and she worked at Eastern Aircrafts in Tarrytown.
Murray was 36 when she joined the war effort and chose to work as a stenographer for the Army ground forces. Like many families of the Yonkers WACs, Murray’s family had recently come to the United States. Born in Ireland, she immigrated with her family in 1911 when she was two years old.
After World War II, Murray continued to serve in the Army during the Korean War, and later became a Smithsonian Institution war historian.
One of the oldest WACs, Gerda Thomas was born in Germany 1897 and was past the stated enlistment age of 45 years. Before the war she vacationed in America and decided to immigrate. She then operated a cross country ski school in upstate New York and became a citizen in 1935.
Thomas had done photographic work for the AGFA Film Corporation in Germany, and in the WAC, attended a specialist school for training as an X-Ray technician. She was assigned to the Wakeman General Hospital at Camp Atterbury, Indiana. After the war, she remained in WAC service until 1948.
At age 20, Helen Organ was one of the youngest local WAC enlistees, thus she needed parental permission to join. She trained as a medical technician in West Virginia and earned promotions to the rank of technician fifth grade.
Before enlisting, she was a graduate of Hastings-on-Hudson High School and employed by the Ethyl Corporation
At age 39, Lois Wilson had experience as a teacher and artist that qualified her to start as an assistant occupational therapist with the rank of sergeant. She was from Fayette, a small town in Alabama, and originally came north to study art in Boston. Before the war she traveled to the major art centers of France and Italy, as well as took architecture classes at Alabama Polytechnic Institute. After leaving the WAC, she became a prolific Yonkers folk artist, who donated all of her work to her hometown.
Born 1904, Evelyn Ann Corey was almost 40 years old at the time of enlisting in the Women Army Corps in 1944. She lived with her sister, Mrs. Mabelle Beerman, in Yonkers, and had been employed by Mrs. Marie G. Lane, in Scarsdale, prior to enlisting. She was maid of honor at the wedding of her niece Jean Beerman, who was also enlisted with the WACs.
One of the older WACs painted by Kughler, Eleanor Scapoli was born in 1912 and already widowed when she served with the Army Air Forces. In 1945, she was stationed at Mitchell Field on Long Island and expecting a transfer overseas.
Scapoli worked for the Suburban Bus Company prior to joining the WAC. She is credited with being one of the first women bus drivers in Yonkers, and perhaps Westchester.
Kelly was born in 1910 and about 35 years old when she enlisted in 1945. She was one of the many WACs whose families had recently come to America. Her family was from Ireland, and she was of the first generation to be born in the United States.
Several of the Yonkers WACs, like Rose Untener, were born in 1925 and not old enough to sign up until the last year of conflict. They had spent their teenage years under the cloud of war.
Before joining the WAC, Rose worked as an inspector at the North American Philips Company in Dobbs Ferry, where her mother and Pvt. Helen Harrison’s mother also worked. Helen and Rose were sworn into the WAC together, in a ceremony in the Post Office building in Yonkers. They both choose careers in the Army Medical Department.
One of the first WACs to be sworn in, Tompkins was 22 when she enlisted in 1943. A graduate of Roosevelt High School, Eva had continued her education by attending the Butler Business School. She was involved in the Business Girls’ Professional Club and assisted in the war effort as a member of the American Legion Auxilliary. Following her honorable discharge in 1946, she worked at Alexander Smith and Sons Carpet Company.
As part of the 2012 exhibit, the Hudson River Museum photographed and interviewed 12 women soldiers, ranging in service dates from World War II to today. Hear some of their stories in the attached video. LIFE photo collection caption: Last of the American WACS stationed in the Philippines crowded aboard transport ship bound for home.
Laura Vookles, Chief Curator of Collections, Hudson River Museum
Jason Weller, Senior Art Technician, Hudson River Museum
Research Assistant & Google Coordinator-
Tara Dawson, Development Associate for Communications, Hudson River Museum
Hudson River Museum, Yonkers, NY
Documentary photographs from the LIFE Photo Collection on Google Cultural Institute.