Pilots Receive Their Due
When there was a shortage
of U.S. pilots (who were all male) during World War II, the
country called on women to volunteer for an all-female pilot
corps. Hundreds answered the call, and the Women Airforce
Service Pilots (WASP) program was formed in 1942, in which
women flew test runs on new aircraft, taxied planes to departure
points and towed targets for training flights, among other
services, freeing trained Air Force pilots for missions overseas.
More than 1,100 women joined
WASP during its two-and-a-half year tenure through November
1944. Among them were 10 Smith alumnae. They are Ann Baumgartner
Carl ’39, Sara Chapin ’43, Alta Corbett ’39,
Margot Ford ’39, Gloria Heath ’43, Betty LeVeque ’43, Mary
Storm Ruprecht ’40, Harriet Train ’43, Lucy B. Walker ’36,
and Mary Howson ’40, who died in a training crash before
receiving her wings.
pilots were collectively honored at the U.S. Capitol
on Wednesday, March 10, with the Congressional Gold Medal,
the highest civilian honor bestowed by the United States
Congress. The honor was initiated in Congress by Senator
Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), Senator Barbara Mikulski (Maryland),
Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida) and Representative
Susan Davis (California).
Despite their service to their
country, the members of WASP were denied military status
until 1977, when they rallied for formal recognition and
were elevated retroactively to members of the military. In
receiving the award, they join some of history’s most beloved figures -- vaunted
statesmen such as George Washington, Ulysses Grant, Andrew Jackson,
Robert Kennedy and Nelson Mandela; notable artists, including
George and Ira Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Robert Frost;
and inspiring heroes such as Rosa Parks, Mother Theresa,
Neil Armstrong and Charles Lindbergh.
The WASP members are
honored, fittingly, during national Women’s History Month,
an annual celebration that began in 1978, the year the women
pilot corps received official military recognition.
Women’s History Month festivities include a workshop, “Kicking
@!#% in High Heels: A Century of Comic Book Superheroines,” on
Wednesday, March 24. The workshop, led by Brandon Buehring,
area coordinator in residence life, will examine gender,
sexism and feminism in nearly a century of superhero publications.
Read more about WASP or about
Gold Medal for WASP.