Each era spawns its acronyms. (POTUS, FLOTUS, and SCOTUS, anyone?) Some World War II acronyms remain familiar, like WAC, for Women’s Army Corps, and its earlier incarnation, WAAC, Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. Maybe you know of the WAVES—Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service–a branch of the U.S. Navy in which women could enlist. But chances are you’ve never heard of the W.I.V.E.S.
In a case where the acronym must have been invented before the organization worked out what its letters represented, W.I.V.E.S. stood for Wives Insure Victory, Equality, Security. The W.I.V.E.S. was an association of spouses of men in the United States armed forces and maritime service, who, through relief programs and social activities, bond drives, publications and classes, aimed to “keep up the morale of the servicemen,” “keep up wives’ morale,” “serve the National War Effort,” and “insure [sic] a secure postwar world.”
The W.I.V.E.S. was founded by a small group of Brooklyn women who first met in the spring of 1943. The organization’s initial focus was a letter-writing campaign urging Congress to amend the recently-passed Soldier Voting Act, which allowed military abroad to vote for federal offices by absentee ballot, but retained complex and restrictive local voter registration laws. Some Republicans opposed the act and its amendments in the belief that service members, loyal to their commander-in-chief, would simply vote for the incumbent Democrat, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in the 1944 election.
One vocal opponent was Mississippi Representative John E. Rankin (1882-1960), a known proponent of racial segregation and white supremacy, who, on the floor of Congress, noted the “Semitic” quality of the signatures on many of the letters sent in support of the amendment, particularly those from New York. The W.I.V.E.S., some of whom were Jewish, were rightly incensed. Their indignation was championed by the newspaper PM in a piece that flatly denounced Rankin. The resulting publicity brought floods of applications to join the W.I.V.E.S., and the organization quickly expanded to include chapters throughout the greater New York region and around the country, with headquarters at the Hotel Wentworth in Manhattan. Most chapters were named for prominent American women like Sara Delano Roosevelt, Emma Lazarus, and Amelia Earhart.
The Amelia Earhart Chapter’s delegate to the W.I.V.E.S. national convention in November 1945 was Janet Shapiro, a resident of Brownsville, Brooklyn, and the source of three folders of W.I.V.E.S. material at the New-York Historical Society library. Shapiro saved her lapel ribbon, felt armband, membership card, correspondence, an inspirational song sheet (see the lyrics to one tune, below), and copies of the organization’s publications: A Word to the W.I.V.E.S. (from which many of the images in this post are drawn), and Mrs. Yank, a newsletter modeled on Yank, the Army Weekly.
At its 1945 convention the W.I.V.E.S. re-branded itself “Veterans and Wives” to accommodate the membership of husbands returning from military service. (The newsletter Mrs. Yank became Mr. and Mrs. Yank.) But, its goals having been met, the group dissolved soon after. Thankfully, Janet Shapiro’s small but unique collection documents this largely forgotten part of American women’s wartime history.
W.I.V.E.S. keep morale up high,
W.I.V.E.S. write each day,
W.I.V.E.S. buy the bonds that help to
Keep them flying on their way.
W.I.V.E.S. give their blood for them,
W.I.V.E.S. do war work,
W.I.V.E.S. pray the Lord to help
Till Victory is history — AMEN!”
[Sung to the tune of “Anchors Aweigh.” Words by Miram Shukat, Rockaway Park Chapter.]
This post is by Joseph Ditta, Processing Archivist.