By Sabrina Messenger
Who were the 100% Girls of World War One?
Nowadays, you see a lot of percentage numbers thrown around by either the media or political activists. Some recent examples? Occupy Wall Street slogan: “We are the 99 %”. A recent Presidential candidate spoke of people whom he labeled as the 47%. The famous Italian actress Sophia Loren was noted for saying “Sex appeal is 50% what you got and 50% what people think you got. Even in literature, you can read titillating accounts of the fictitious British detective Sherlock Holmes and his 7% solution.
Did you know that we female Marines also have an interesting cultural anecdote involving percentages? Nearly 95 years ago, we were dubbed the 100% Girls!
Who were the 100% girls and why were they called that? Glad you asked!
The “Great War” as it was called back then was a fierce and brutal one. There were many casualties which decimated the ranks in all of the armed services. There was such a severe shortage of men which if left unattended might result in the loss of the war!
When it was discovered that there were still men toiling away in offices stateside who could be sent overseas as reinforcements, it was decided that their jobs could be filled by women for the duration. Each branch sent out the call to duty to the female citizenry.
When the Marine Corps announced via newspaper advertisement that women would be allowed to join the ranks in order to help “free a man to fight”, the response was rapid…and plentiful! In New York City alone, there were over 2000 prospective recruits who showed up at the recruiting office. Recruiting offices in other U.S. cities also reported a high turnout of patriotic minded women who wanted to serve their nation and become one of ‘the few, the proud.’
The greatest occupational need at that time was for stenographers, bookkeepers, accountants, and typists. The jobs which at that time were male dominated, but are now labeled as “pink collar.” However, those jobs were not to be filled by just any woman. The Marine Corps in particular required women who were “of excellent character, neat appearance, and with business or office experience.” There wouldn’t be time to train the women, so the prospective recruits also had to be able to demonstrate that they had the ‘right stuff.” Hence the infamously rigorous vetting and the stenographer’s exam.
What happened in New York at the recruiting office that day, according to one Florence Gertlierle :
“Male non-commissioned officers went up and down the line asking questions about experience, family responsibilities, etc., and by the process of elimination got the line down to a few hundred. Applicants were interviewed by one officer and finally given a stenographic test. Colonel McLemore (the Officer in Charge of Marine Corps Recruiting) conducted the shorthand test and dictated so fast, that one after another left the room. Those who remained were taken, one-by-one, into Colonel McLemore’s office and told to read back their notes (I remember that I made a mistake on ‘Judge Advocate General,’ never having heard the word, I thought it was ‘Attorney General.’) If the colonel was satisfied with our reading, we were required to type our notes and timed for speed and accuracy. More and more applicants dropped by the wayside, until only five of us were left. We were told to report back the next day for a physical examination.”
Yes, you read that right. Out of 2000 women in New York alone, only FIVE were accepted! The New York Times actually ran a news story on Florence and the other four women who made the cut. It was a really big deal at the time. Could you image the Times running a story on a stenography testing nowadays? After all, who even knows shorthand nowadays? (this blogger does but that’s another story for a different blog entry!)
Col McLemore is credited with calling the 305 women who were selected for enlistment his “100% Girls.” He used that phrase because the women who made it into the Corps at that time had unusually high speed and accuracy requirements placed on them that first day of recruiting…and they met the challenge! Just as women Marines are meeting the challenge today and every day.
The roles of female Marines today have expanded far beyond the clerical and administrative fields. These days women Marines are in virtually every Military Occupational Specialty with the exception of about eight, and that is rapidly changing. According to recent news reports, by 2016, they may also be part of the infantry!
So whether she is a 01xx or a potential 03xx, there’s every reason to believe that the female Marines of today still embody the spirit of those “100% Girls” of yesteryear!
Source: Women Marines In World War II by Capt Linda Hewitt USMCR