The Law is Passed
On November 23, 1942, less than one year after the United States entered WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt signed a law which created the Women’s Reserve of the Coast Guard. The purpose of this act was to expedite the efforts of the war by providing relief for the officers and the men on sea duty. Women would be assigned from the reserve to provide the necessary relief. Under the act, women had to remain within the continental United States and were not permitted to issue any orders to male servicemen.
Their Purpose / Their Service
This reserve unit of the Coast Guard would come to be known as SPARS – based on the Coast Guard motto “Semper Paratus” or “always be ready”. A woman could only enlist if her husband was not serving in the Coast Guard and if single, they had to agree they would not marry before finishing their training. At any time, should they become pregnant, they were required to submit their immediate resignation.
At first, women enlisting in SPARS were given the listing of seaman second class. The Coast Guard felt these women could bring nothing more than clerical skills or telephone operator skills to the service. Eventually though, more experienced women enlisted, proving their usefulness beyond these basic civilian jobs. SPAR women would continue to overcome a number of difficulties throughout the war. By wars end, they were permitted to be stationed outside the continental United States and African-American women were also being accepted into the organization and eventually received permission to give orders to a male Coast Guardsman as long as her commanding officer was a man.
The War – and SPAR – Come to an End
When women enlisted in SPAR, they basically signed up for “duration plus six”. This meant they would remain in service through the duration of the war and once it was over, they would remain an additional six months. Soon after the surrender of the Japan, SPAR – like other women’s reserve branches of the military – was disbanded. Only a few remained active, but only long enough to finish the projects they’d been assigned. The rest of these WWII women in the US Coast Guard – an estimated 12,000 – returned to civilian life.