In 1943 artist Francis V. Kughler, Hudson River Museum Director H. Armour Smith and Women’s Army Corps recruiter Joanne Coates conceived a plan to encourage women of Yonkers to enlist in the army and honor their contribution. Every Yonkers woman who joined the WACs would have her portrait made in oil or pastel by Kughler.
World War II was the first time women were officially mobilized across all the armed forces. Joanne Coates was barely out of Bryn Mawr College when she applied to the Officer’s Candidate School of the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), the precursor to the WAC. In July of 1943, the transition from the WAAC to the WAC meant that the women soldiers were more fully integrated as a branch of the Army and recruitment efforts intensified.
Lt. Coates traveled to New Jersey and Delaware, then Yonkers, on a mission to increase WAC enlistment. She had studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and appreciated the power of art to promote her cause. When she asked the Hudson River Museum to recommend artists to design recruitment posters, she initiated a much larger project and ended up in a portrait herself.
Kughler captured Coates’ charisma, which must have made her a very effective advocate. She worked in Yonkers until mid-1944, swearing in nearly half of the women in these pictures.