Today in 1948, the U.S. Air Force Accepted Its First Female Member | Smart News | Smithsonian
Current Issue
November 2014 magazine cover
Subscribe

Save 81% off the newsstand price!

Keeping you current

Today in 1948, the U.S. Air Force Accepted Its First Female Member

The first recruit to the Women in the Air Force (known as WAF) was Esther Blake who enlisted on the first day it was even possible for women to do so - 65 years ago today

smithsonian.com

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.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Today in History: Jackie Cochran Breaks the Sound Barrier
Documenting Sexual Assault in The Invisible War

Tags
About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

Read more from this author |

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus