In 1948, Presdient Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act, which allowed women to enlist directly in the military. That same year, the U.S. Air Force let the first female members into its ranks. The first recruit to the Women in the Air Force (known as WAF) was Esther Blake,who enlisted on the first day it was possible for women to do so—65 years ago today. The first commissioner of the WAF was Geraldine Pratt May, who was the first Air Force woman to become a colonel.
The women of the WAF didn’t see the same kind of action as Air Force men: they were generally relegated to clerical and medical tasks. Their first uniforms were men’s uniforms with neckties, until Pratt May ordered women’s uniforms, modeled them after the garb of airline stewardesses, to be made.
The WAF also had a well known band. The U.S. WAF Band Story has the history of the group from one of the founding members, Alma Billet Jentsch:
The ﬁrst attempt to organize a dance band occurred in September of 1951. The original members were Edith Carson, Tenor Sax; Elaine Lilley, Alto Sax; Ann Marie Reznak, Trombone; Jean Ford, Drums; Betty Emerson, Trumpet; and Jean Billett, Piano and Director. We became the “Harmony Hoboes” and wore red plaid shirts, blue denim skirts and handkerchiefs around the neck. Our theme song was “Tenderly.” We played four songs to a set, which usually consisted of a song, a waltz, a polka and a mamba.
The Women of the Air Force website suggests that these women still get together for reunions (although it hasn’t been update in a few years). The Air Force Reserve has a video remembering the women of the WAF, a program that existed until 1976, when women were accepted into the Air Force as equal members. In 1967, Johnson signed a law that lifted further restrictions on women in the military, like lifting grade and strength limitations. Today, the top-ranking woman in the Air Force is Lieutenant General Janet Wolfenbarger, the first female four-star general in Air Force history. According to the Air Force, women make up just 9.1 percent of the general officer ranks. There are only four female lieutenant generals, twelve major generals and eleven brigadier generals.
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