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   Date: 3/10/10; Revised 6/22/10 Bookmark and Share

Smith Pilots Receive Their Due

Alumnae Honored with Congressional Gold Medal

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.

WASPs at ease during training.

Read and listen to a National Public Radio article on WASP from March 9.

Listen to a WFCR interview with Smith Medalist Gloria Heath ’43 about her WASP experience.

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.

The WASP 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.

At Smith, 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 the Congressional Gold Medal for WASP.

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