Representative Edith Nourse Rogers, of Massachusetts, is pictured in 1939 with other representatives.
In May 1941, Representative Edith Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress to establish a Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). As auxiliaries, women would serve with the Army rather than in it, and would be denied the benefits of their male counterparts. Opposition delayed the passage of the bill until May 1942.[Note 1] At the same time, the U.S. Navy's Bureau of Aeronautics felt the Navy would eventually need women in uniform and had asked the Bureau of Naval Personnel, headed by Rear Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, to propose legislation as it had done during World War I, authorizing women to serve in the Navy under the Yeoman (F) classification. Nimitz was not considered an advocate for bringing women into the Navy, and the head of the U.S. Naval Reserve expressed the view that the Civil Service would be able to supply any extra personnel that might be needed.
On December 9, 1941, Representative Rogers telephoned Nimitz and asked him whether the Navy was interested in some sort of women's auxiliary corps. In her book Lady in the Navy, Joy Bright Hancock quotes his reply: "I advised Mrs. Rogers that at the present time I saw no great need for such a bill". Nevertheless, within days Nimitz was in touch with all Navy Department bureaus asking them to assess their needs for an equivalent to the WAAC. With few exceptions, the responses were negative, but Congressional inquiries about the Navy's plan for women continued to increase.
Frank Knox, Secretary of the Navy in 1940
On January 2, 1942, the Bureau of Naval Personnel, in an about-face, recommended to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox that Congress be asked to authorize a women's organization. The following month, Knox recommended a women's branch as part of the Naval Reserve. The director of the Bureau of the Budget opposed his idea, but would agree to legislation similar to the WAAC bill – where women were with, but not in, the Navy. This was unacceptable to Knox. The Bureau of Aeronautics continued to believe there was a place for women in the Navy, and appealed to an influential friend of naval aviation named Margaret Chung. A San Francisco physician and surgeon, Chung was known to have had an interest in naval aviation. Many of her naval friends referred to themselves as sons of Mom Chung. In Crossed Currents, the authors describe how Chung used her influence:
Having learned of the stalemate, she asked one of these [sons], Representative Melvin Maas of Minnesota, who had served in the aviation branch of the U.S. Marine Corps in World War I, to introduce legislation independently of the Navy. On 18 March 1942 he did just that.
The Maas House bill was identical to the Knox proposal, which would make a women's branch part of the Naval Reserve. At the same time, Senator Raymond E. Willis of Indiana introduced a similar bill in the Senate. On April 16, 1942, the House Naval Affairs Committee reported favorably on the Maas bill. It was passed by the House the same day and sent to the Senate. The Senate Naval Affairs Committee was opposed to the bill, especially its chairman – Senator David I. Walsh of Massachusetts. He did not want women in the Navy because it "would tend to break-up American homes and would be a step backwards in the progress of civilization". The Senate committee eventually proposed a naval version of the WAAC, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved it, but Knox asked the president to reconsider.