With so many men enlisting in the armed forces after the attack on Pearl Harbor, American manufacturers turned to women to fill gaps left in the workforce. Women became factory workers and assisted in the production of arms, airplanes, and tanks, among other things. In addition to factory jobs during the war, some women served as pilots and became the first females to fly American military aircraft, ferrying planes from the place they were made to bases, as well as serving as pilots of cargo airplanes and participating in mission simulations.
Dorothy Hewitt, who along with her husband Abram lived at Long Branch from 1957 to 1977, was a member of the British Air Transport Auxiliary during WWII. Earning her pilot and flight instructor licenses in 1940, Dorothy then went to work as an instructor in President Roosevelt’s newly created Student Training Program, which allowed university students to complete fifty hours of flight instruction for free. In the fall of 1941, she travelled to Canada to apply for a position with the British Air Transport Auxiliary. She and 11 other American women were hired and sent overseas. Dorothy’s job was to ferry planes from factories to airfields in Britain for the Royal Air Force, which she did until falling ill in 1944. As one of the first American women to fly planes in the Second World War, Dorothy Hewitt was a pioneer, and greatly supported the efforts of what, in her own words, was “the only justifiable war in my lifetime.”
Though hesitant at first because of doubts surrounding women’s abilities to pilot military aircraft, the American armed forces began using female pilots in 1942 due to a shortage of male pilots. This group was known as the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, and consisted of civilian pilots who volunteered to be part of an experimental Army Air Corps program. The first group consisted of 28 women, who went through rigorous training and were then stationed at bases throughout the country. In total, approximately 1100 women served as WASPs during the war, exceeding expectations and proving that women were more than competent as military aircraft pilots. The program came to an end in December 1944, but the women who had participated were not able to gain veteran status because the program had never been militarized. The women, 38 of whom had been killed during their service, were eventually granted veteran status in 1977, and were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in 2010.
– Frances Monroe, Long Branch Plantation Intern
More information on the WASPs can be found on the website of their official archive, housed at Texas Women’s University: http://www.twu.edu/library/wasp.asp.