Women Airforce Service Pilots


Women Flying High for the War Effort

This essay explores how women supported the war effort through the Women Airforce Service Pilot Program during World War II.

Part One Changes on the Homefront

During World War II, many of the nation’s men were drafted into service abroad, but things were changing on the homefront, too. With the men overseas battling our enemies, many jobs and roles in our nation that men traditionally held fell to the women. The women, anxious to help in any way they could, picked up where the men left off. According to an online exhibit, “Partners in Winning the War,” on the National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) website, the women who assumed these new roles made victory possible for our soldiers overseas. Out of this era came some famous images like Rosie the Riveter, a now iconic symbol originally designed as part of a massive advertising effort to encourage women to take on these new roles during wartime.

In addition to taking up factory jobs, women across the nation helped raise money for war bonds, knitted socks and hats for soldiers, worked for the Red

Part Two The WASPs

Some of the more adventurous or daring women opted to become military aviators, or Women Airforce Service Pilots, more commonly known as WASPs. A female military aviation program was first proposed by Jacqueline Cochran, a female civilian pilot, who  “envisioned a women’s air corps that would handle almost any noncombat flying job, thereby releasing men for duty overseas” (“History of the WASP”). Cochran’s vision was shared by Nancy Harkness Love, another young female pilot. Cochran eventually started Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD) in 1942, and almost simultaneously, Love started the Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), which recruited willing female civilian pilots with extensive flight experience (“History of the WASP”). The WFTD and the rival WAFS merged in 1943, under the guidance of Cochran and Love, to form the WASP program (“History of WASP”).  

These women underwent intensive training to ferry supplies, deliver planes, instruct male cadet pilots, simulate bombing runs, test new aircraft models and engines, and

Part Three The Legacy

It was not until 2009, under President Barack Obama, that legislation was enacted to award WASPs the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian, for their efforts and years of service during World War II (“History of WASP”). A national ceremony was held in Washington DC to commemorate the women who served as WASPs, and a local ceremony was also held in Lincoln to specifically honor all of the Nebraskan women who served. Mary Ellen Williamson, a retired educator, former WASP, and Omaha local, attended the ceremony and accepted the Congressional Gold Medal on behalf of all her “sisters in the sky” (Hovey).

The sacrifices made by women in the sky, on the ground, and overseas during the Second World War helped the nation secure a victory abroad. Though many of the women who took unconventional jobs to help the

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