In the midst of World War II, Seattle’s Civil Service Commission struggled with how to classify women who were serving in the WAAC (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps), WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, otherwise known as the Navy Women’s Reserve), and SPAR (Coast Guard Women’s Reserve). All three reserve units were meant to free men to fight overseas by allowing women to fill their roles at home, but their noncombatant status led to a gray area as to how to categorize them.
In 1940, the City passed Ordinance 69816, which granted leaves of absence to City employees who were in active military service. The Civil Service Commission was unsure whether this ordinance should apply to women serving in the reserve units, and wrote a memo to the Law Department in 1943 looking for guidance.
Corporation Counsel A.C. Van Soelen went back to the federal laws authorizing the women’s units to determine their status. In the case of the WAAC, he cited parts of the act providing that “the Corps shall not be a part of the Army, but it shall be the only women’s organization authorized to serve with the Army, exclusive of the Army Nurse Corps” and that “the Corps shall be administered by the Secretary [of War] through the channels of command of the Army.”
Van Soelen also noted that the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act was amended to include the WAAC in its list of those in military service. As to WAVE and SPAR, he noted that the law established them as branches of the Navy and Coast Guard. Given this legal framework, Van Soelen found that members of these units “are in the ‘active military service’ of the United States and therefore within the provisions of Ordinance No. 69816, and you are so advised.” Based on this decision, the City’s female employees in military service were granted the same benefits as their male counterparts.
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