Women’s Objectification in the Camp Adair Sentry

Students in Dr. Marisa Chappell’s fall 2023 History 363 “Women in U.S. History” class spent the final three weeks of Fall Quarter 2023 in OSU’s Special Collections and Archives Research Center exploring women in Camp Adair’s history.

By Emily Bakhshoudeh, London Hawes, and Maya Kirschenbaum

Women played many important roles at Camp Adair, a Benton County, Oregon World War II military training facility, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the camp’s official newspaper, the Camp Adair Sentry. Within its pages, women were valued largely for their beauty or simply relegated to the sidelines of the war effort. The sexualization and paternalistic treatment of Camp Adair women through events like the PX (post exchange) Girl Contest represents an intriguing counter-narrative to the popularly constructed story of heroic Rosie the Riveters assisting the Allied war effort.

This February 11, 1943 Camp Adair Sentry article discusses the PX girl contest, explaining to servicemen how they can elect their local PX manager to be the PX queen of the camp.
This article from the March 11, 1943 issue of the Sentry identifies the two finalists largely by their eye color.

The Camp Adair PX Girl Contest, held in 1943, exemplifies the objectification of women at the facility. A front-page column in the February 11 Sentry entitled “Elect Your PX Dream Girl!” discusses the voting rules for the contest and describes contestants, who were exclusively female PX managers, in sexualized terms solely based on their appearance. Directed at male service members, the article notes that the one who “rings your bell” could be “the cutie with the curves” or “the gal with the violet eyes, the miss with the miracle curves, the pretty little pumpkin with the pumpkins.”[1] Similarly, the March 11, 1943 edition of the Sentry focused on informing soldiers about voting for their favorite PX Girl and “celebrating” the beauty of female PX managers around the camp.[2] The same page features a conventionally attractive woman wearing a bathing suit posing seductively (see below). As with the prior month’s “PX Dream Girl” article, this photo’s caption characterizes the woman’s value in terms of her physical beauty.[3] While the Sentry does not tell us how the average soldier responded, it suggests how the officers who put the Sentry together viewed women. Women were sexualized and valued for their curves within its pages, and their importance to the war effort was mainly portrayed as gratifying the emotional and physical desires of soldiers. 

This front-page photo from the March 11, 1943 Camp Adair Sentry features a woman posed seductively with relatively little coverage of her body.
The winner of the PX Girl contest was announced in the March 18, 1943 issue of the Sentry.

The announcement of the PX Girl winner followed the same pattern. The March 18, 1943 issue reported Betty Frick, or “brown-eyed Betty,” succeeded in “getting the knob by 150 votes over pretty Dorothy Caldwell.”[4] As with previous depictions of contestants, this article refrains from commenting on any aspects of the women other than their physical attributes. Any mention of the winner’s personality, achievements, or contributions to the war effort are effaced. This kind of objectification was not confined to coverage of the PX Girl contest. For instance, the January 21, 1944 edition of the Sentry featured a photograph of Ruby Richards, fountain manager of PX 3, posing in a bathing suit (Figure 3). The caption described Richards as “lissome” and emphasized her vital statistics.[5]

This kind of objectification was common in the 1940s. According to historian Marilyn E. Hegarty, “magazines, movies, posters, and other media covertly and overtly urged wartime women to provide sexualized support for the military in various types of public and private entertainment.”[6] Historian Steven Dillon discusses the emergence of sexual culture during World War II by showing the rise in popularity of the sexualization of women in media consisting of film, magazines, comics, radio, and newspapers. This sexualization went beyond visual images. When discussing radio, for example, Dillon notes that “women are not just heard on the radio; they are viewed; even if listeners can’t see them, female characters are judged by what they look like.”[7] This phenomenon was not limited to the United States, either; scholar Marilyn Lake writes that “[a]dvertisements for cosmetics, fashioning a new sexualized femininity, incited [Australian] women to ‘reckless, red adventure’ and warned that ‘Fair Girls Ought to be Doubly Careful.”[8]

It is clear that objectification of women occurred on a large scale throughout the United States and beyond during World War II and was not limited to isolated locales such as Camp Adair. However, the consistent and government-approved sexualization of female camp members by the Camp Adair Sentry is a particularly salient example of the methods the military used to build troop morale and create gendered expectations of masculinity as well as femininity.

[1] “Elect Your PX Dream Girl! Contest Starts – The Rules,” Camp Adair Sentry, February 11, 1943, 1.

[2] “PX Girl Contest Judges Swamped,” Camp Adair Sentry, March 11, 1943, 1.

[3] “Positively Not GI,” Camp Adair Sentry, March 11, 1943, 1.

[4] “Betty Frick Winner of PX Girl Contest,” Camp Adair Sentry, March 18, 1943, 4.

[5] “No. 26: One Lump or Two, Sugar?”, Camp Adair Sentry 2, no. 40 (January 21, 1944).

[6] Marilyn E. Hegarty, “Patriot or Prostitute?: Sexual Discourses, Print Media, and American Women during World War II,” Journal of Women’s History 10, no. 2 (1998), 113

[7] Steven Dillon, Wolf-Women and Phantom Ladies: Female Desire in 1940’s US Culture (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 2016), 4.

[8] Marilyn Lake, “The Desire for a Yank: Sexual Relations between Australian Women and American Servicemen during World War II,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2, no. 4 (1992): 623.

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