Prior to World War II, the primary roles of women were homemakers, mothers, wives, and daughters. Their main job was to stay home, take care of the family, and run the household. The man’s role was to go into the workforce and bring home the paycheck. This isn’t to say women did not hold jobs outside the home, but the overall professional arena belonged to men. As the war years approached, women began to have more options. Many more women attended college and joined the workforce.
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, men were called into service, which required them to vacate jobs on the home front. Women were called to take up the fight. As men went off to train and fight in the war, women worked together on the home front, and in the service, to make the war a little shorter.
Researchers have been so conditioned to look for records on men who participated, that we often overlook the women who were involved. Women participated in the war effort for World War II, largely on the home front, taking jobs vacated by men who were sent to fight and working in factories to support the war effort.
We cannot overlook the women who joined the military to lend their support to the war effort, also taking jobs men vacated in many cases. And, we cannot forget the women who joined the nursing corps, OSS, USO, or Red Cross.
Tips for Searching for Women
- Search by maiden and married name if you are unsure which was used.
- Search newspapers to learn additional details which may aid your records search.
- Look for home sources and other records which may provide clues for your search.
- Contact the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) to see if your female ancestor worked as a Civilian Federal Employee. If she did, there will be a file in St. Louis.
- Locate a service or serial number and rough dates of service if your ancestor served in the military. If you are unable to find one, the NPRC in St. Louis has a VA Index.
- Try to obtain copies of the Separation and Discharge papers for your female relative which will provide a unit, dates of service, possibly dates/locations of overseas service.
Where do we search for records on women during the war?
Women who participated in military service as a volunteer or enlisted/officer personnel, will have Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Missouri. You need their name and serial number, at the very least, to begin a records search. The process is the same one used to locate records for men.
Those who enlisted in the Army and were volunteers or enlisted/officer for the Army or Air Corps/Air Force, might be listed in the U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946. This database is not 100% complete as stated on National Archives website, but is often a good source of information.
Any women who were Missing In Action and later given a Finding of Death, or Killed In Action, in any theater of war will be listed within casualty lists or burial registries on Ancestry. There are many casualty databases on Ancestry, but a few include:
- U.S., Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010
- U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006
- U.S., Headstone and Interment Records for U.S. Military Cemeteries on Foreign Soil, 1942-1949
- U.S. Rosters of World War II Dead, 1939-1945
- World War II Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard Casualties, 1941-1945
Red Cross Workers
Contact the Red Cross first, then search educational facilities, newspapers, newsletters, company records, home sources, and the National Archives. Ancestry has a collection of U.S., American Red Cross Nurse Files, 1916-1959, that can be searched as well. Look for oral histories or books written by or about Red Cross workers during World War II.
USO Records are scattered. Check the following resources to begin your search.
- The New York Public Library has a collection, donated by the USO Camp Shows, which contains history of the USO, photographs, and show information.
- Research the USO in newspapers, the NARA WWII Soldier Survey Oral Histories, and Library of Congress Veterans Oral History project.
- Search for USO exhibits at military museums and bases.
Cadet Nursing Corps
Women who worked with the Cadet Nursing Corps have more detailed records on Ancestry.com You can search the U.S., World War II Cadet Nursing Corps Card Files, 1942-1948 for records on your nurse. The Cadet Nursing Corps was created during the war to educate and provide financial assistance to women who wanted to become nurses. They were required to serve for the duration of the war. These records contain information on their names, addresses, schools attended, transfers, and education. The same record set can also be found on Fold3.
Fold3 Wall of Honor
Search Fold3’s Wall of Honor to see if your female relative is listed among those who served. If she does not already have a page, please consider creating one and adding her photo and service information.
American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC)
Men are not the only ones buried in the overseas WWI or WWII ABMC cemeteries. Women and civilians are also buried overseas. While the ABMC does not maintain service records or the Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPFs), you can still learn important things about a woman’s service if she is buried overseas or listed on a Wall or Tablet of the Missing.
For remains of service men and women who were repatriated after the war, you can search the Fold3 Headstone Applications, 1925-1963.
Individual Deceased Personnel Files (IDPFs)
For every individual, soldier, sailor, or Marine, man or woman, killed while in military service, there will be an IDPF available. These files document the death, burial information, and final interment details for those Killed In Action. Most contain handwritten letters from family members, and other details you will not find in other documents. To learn how to obtain these files, please read my article, Requesting the Individual Deceased Personnel File (IDPF).
Compensation Act Files
After World War II, the government issued a bonus payment or additional compensation to veterans who fought overseas. These records are usually held within each state’s archives, but not all are available to the public. In the state of Illinois, these records, the World War II Bonus Applications, are unavailable for roughly 50 more years due to a law on the books. The laws vary state to state, but two states have made their records available on Ancestry—Pennsylvania and Iowa. These documents usually provide the soldier’s name, serial number, unit, next of kin, address, and sometimes additional military service information. If you can get copies online or through your state archives, they are valuable documents.
- Pennsylvania, Veteran Compensation Application Files, WWII, 1950-1966
- Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954
State World War II Records
Also within Ancestry collections are some state-level World War II service records. These are not the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) you will obtain from St. Louis. They do often contain a great deal of military service information and sometimes, photographs.
Two other record sources exist which may contain information on the service of women during World War II.
New York, State Veterans’ Questionnaires, 1861-1991. A partial description of this record set is, “These include questionnaires about military service, registration and enlistment forms, disability certificates, transcripts of interviews, newspaper clippings, and photographs.”
U.S., WWII Jewish Servicemen Cards, 1942-1947. These records are indexes only of records which are currently held by American Jewish Historical Society (AJHS.) The documents held by the AJHS can be several pages long and contain a lot of military service information. Data on wounds and awards is also contained within these records.