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Kentucky Women: Aeronautical Achievers

April 3, 2012 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Military history, Primary source

Kentucky Museum of AviationThe field of aeronautics held limitations for women during most of its history. Woman have taken more active roles in space exploration, aeronautical systems design, and military and civilian flight opportunities as these have increased through the 20th century and up to today. Several women native to Kentucky have made notable achievements in these fields. Their accomplishments have  been honored by induction into the Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame.

The Kentucky Aviation Hall of Fame honored its first inductees in 1996. It is part of the Aviation Museum of Kentucky at Blue Grass Airport. The eight women who have entered the Hall of Fame can be identified for their achievements as pioneers, as instructors, and as air racers.

The Pioneers

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell

Willa Brown Chappell (1906-1992), a native of Glasgow in Barren County, was the first African-American woman to be licensed as a private pilot in the United States. This was in 1937; in 1943, she was the first women to hold both an aviation mechanic’s and commercial pilot license. She went on to co-found the National Airmen’s Association of America. Thisorganization promoted interest in aviation and supported pilot training positions for black aviation cadets. As a director of a racially segregated flight school in Chicago, Chappell participated in the training of more than 200 student pilots that later became members of the Tuskegee Airmen. Chappell was recognized in 2002 as one of Women in Aviation’s 100 Most Influential Women in Aviation and Aerospace.
See also her picture and bio at Black Wings.
Mary Edith Engle

Mary Edith Engle

Esther LucilleMueller Ammerman

Esther Lucille
Mueller Ammerman

Esther Mueller Ammerman and Mary Edith Engle are considered pioneers due to their service in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP’s) during WWII. Created to ease the demand for pilots, the WASP’s were organized in 1943 to fly noncombat missions in support of the war. Applicants numbered 25,000 and less than 2,000 were accepted into the program. Two who were accepted were Ammerman and Engle. Ammerman, originally from Thayer, Nebraska, is a resident of Cynthiana in Harrison County. Engle is a native of Lexington who continued flying after the war as a member of the International Organization of Women Pilots (the Ninety-Nines). Each gained pilot flying hours in the multiengine bombers of the day, including the B-29 strategic bomber, the type of plane flown in the atomic bombing missions that ended the conflict in 1945. Even though they flew a variety of non-combat military missions, the WASP’s had no  military status when the unit was disbanded in 1944. This was changed by an act of Congress in 1977, when military protocol and benefits were granted. In July 2009, the Congressional Gold Medal was awarded to the WASP’s for their service to the United States.
See also the Mary Edith B. Engle Papers, 1940-1945 collection at the University of Kentucky Special Collections

Dr. Shelba Proffitt

A fourth pioneer in the Aviation Hall of Fame made her accomplishments in design and engineering. Dr. Shelba J. Proffitt, a native of Whitesburg in Letcher County, was a member of the Wernher Von Braun missile development team at NASA. She later held key positions at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. From NASA she moved to development work on advance tactical missile systems. At the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, she was the first woman to join the Senior Executive Service. As Director of the Advanced Technology Directorate, and Director, Sensors Directorate, Dr. Proffitt addressed the numerous technical issues of missile defense systems. In 2001, she had total responsibility for developing air and missile systems as Acting Program Executive Officer. Dr. Proffitt’s capabilities were recognized by the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996 and the Von Braun Engineer of the Year Award in 1999.
See more on Dr. Proffitt’s background in an article in The Mountain Eagle, February 6, 2002

The Instructors

No one legally learns to fly in the United States without an instructor pilot. Two Kentucky women are outstanding in this category of The Instructors.

Evelyn Bryan Johnson

Evelyn Bryan Johnson was born in Corbin and is better known as “Mama Bird”. She is a Federal Aviation Administration Flight Instructor and an FAA Flight Examiner. Others hold these ratings like Johnson, but none match her 57,000 flight hours. The number of pilot check flights she has conducted number close to 10,000 total. Johnson has been recognized repeatedly for her contributions to general aviation. Many pilots flying and training other pilots today had their initial training experience or “check ride” with Mama Bird Johnson.
See more in the Evelyn Bryan Johnson Papers, 1930-2002 collection in the Archives of Appalachia, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN; and, George Prince, “Mama Bird; Biography of Evelyn Bryan Johnson, A Flight Instructor” (Mayfield Printing, 1994); and “Your Stories: Mama Bird Evelyn Johnson,” a newsclip from WBIR TV, November 24, 2010.

Sheri Coin Marshall
The second instructor overcame the disability of a right arm amputation in childhood to become one of Kentucky’s most respected pilots. Shari Coin Marshall of Paducah in McCracken County is a veteran flight instructor and received the 1998 Instructor of the Year Award for the southern region of the Federal Aviation Administration. Marshall is qualified as an airline pilot and serves as a flight instructor for the physically impaired. Not held back by her impairment, Marshall has also written One Can Do It, a book on dealing with such limitations. She accomplished all this and raised two daughters.
See more in “Marshall ‘wrote the book’ on overcoming disability,” Henderson Home News, December 29, 1994

The Air Racers

Air racing does include speed, while other events call for the pilot to estimate flight time and fuel consumption. The women under this heading also promoted civilian or general aviation as well as their home state.

Greenwood “Cokie”
Overstreet Cocanougher

Greenwood “Cokie” Cocanougher was a native of Lexington who took to flying from a request by her son Archie. The deal: she would try flying if he would attend Sunday school. Her enthusiasm quickly developed and took her on to more than 5,000 flying hours. Within four years of her first flight, Cocanougher had her commercial pilot and instructor pilot ratings. The demand for pilots in WWII gave her instructor pilot employment for wartime flyers under the War Training Service Program. Cocanougher participated in five International All-Women Air Races, and won the 1950 “Powder Puff and Beaux” Derby from Columbus, Ohio to Boston. She received the Jane Lausche Air Safety Trophy for her accomplishment: Cocanougher was just 3 minutes off her estimated flight time, and only .7 gallons away from her estimated fuel consumption. When not racing, she flew across the state as Executive Director of the Associated Women’s Department of the Kentucky Farm Bureau.
See also “Early female pilot chosen for Aviation Hall of Fame,” Central Kentucky News, November 5, 2009

Betty Mosely

Betty Moseley began her private flying career when she made her first solo flight in December 1968. Encouraged by her husband who had been a military pilot in WWII, she accumulated flying hours and prepared for the 1971 Powder Puff Derby. The challenge of the race was a 2,700 mile route from Calgary, Canada to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Conducted in legs, the race was going well for Moseley until she heard a “Mayday” distress call in the last portion of the event. Another pilot had become lost and low on fuel. Moseley relayed radio messages to the distressed pilot, and guided her to a safe landing. Moseley and her plane “Smitten Kitten” forfeited a chance to win by helping another pilot; she was recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration for her action in preventing an accident. Away from air racing, Moseley was active in the Blue Grass chapter of the International Women’s Pilot Association and served as chair of the first Kentucky Aviation Week in 1972. In that same year, working with the Kentucky Air National Guard, she was authorized to train and fly in the supersonic fighter planes that the Guard was assigned. On October 18, 1972, Betty Moseley became the first woman to fly in a combat jet in Kentucky.
See more in the “Betty Moseley” entry in The Ninety-Nines: Yesterday-Today-Tomorrow (Turner Publishing Company, 1996).

Working in a Louisville hospital during World War II

February 25, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, Military history, Primary source

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945, UNC-Greensboro Library

Constance Cline Phillips, 1945

Constance Cline Phillips of North Carolina dropped out of college and signed up for the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) in February 1945.  After attending six weeks of basic training at Fort Des Moines in Iowa, she spent  four months in X-ray technician school at Camp Atterbury in Indiana.  Then, she was stationed at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky from August 1945 to March 1946 when it was closed.

Phillips (1924- ) gave an oral history interview along with her papers and documentation about this time period in her life to the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (where she returned after the war to finish her education in what was then called the Woman’s College).

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945. According to the identification on the back of the photo, "This is an example of the hard life we lead." Constance Cline Phillips is kneeling at left. From UNC-Greensboro Libraries Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

X-Ray Department Staff of Nicolas General Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, Fall 1945

In her interview, Phillips talked about the Nichols General Hospital in Louisville where her work as an X-ray technician was part of medical experimentations using wounded veterans.  She remembered Nichols General as a “nerve center” where soldiers whose injuries made them into paraplegics.  Many of them, she said, had extremity nerve injuries – some had been wounded quite a long time before – and the surgeons were experimenting with ways to rejoin the nerves.

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945

X-Ray staff at Nichols General Hospital, 1945 – from UNC-G Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project

“…they used tantalum wire, is something I remember X-raying to see how close something was getting to something to rejoining.  But I think that was where some of the first paraplegics were kept alive. I don’t believe they understood the technology to be able to do that. So that was very interesting. And of course, most of our patients were male. Very few females. Which, of course, at twenty I thought was cool.

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945 - UNC-Greensboro Libraries

WAC barracks at Nichols General Hospital, Louisville 1945

Phillips remembered that the WACs had their own barracks at Nichols Hospital (“Well, see, we were peons and segregated”) – and the local nurses were in “another segregated area.”   However, Phillips does not address this issue of segregation as one of race (though later in the interview she indicates that she was a white supremicist).

Oneida Miller in 1943 before she started work at Nichols General Hospital in Louisville

Oneida Miller, Army Nurse Corps, 1943

Oneida Miller Stuart who served as an US Army nurse there then remembers that there were about 30 African-American nurses and 100 White nurses attending approximately 500 veterans and prisoners of war (most from Germany and the Pacific front).  She remembered the difficulties of working with Whites despite her professional status and experience: “We were called ‘nigger’ many a time… but you just kept on going.” (audio excerpt)

Phillips met her husband Mike at the Hospital in Louisville – he had been serving as a truck driver in an Army unit recently returned from Germany.  “They didn’t know what to do with all these people at the end of the war, because they were overstaffed.  So they put him on as a ward boy.”  He later became a professional football player, but her first memory of him was seeing him in the hospital: “So here came this great big fellow, moving a patient on a stretcher very gingerly. It didn’t bounce him off the walls.”

This memory is explains also why the young Oneida Miller, in her early 20s similar to Phillips, chose not to move her patients herself anymore. She described her pace of work as progressively becoming “too slow” since she was often accosted by the American GIs who did not want an African-American nurse.  The racism still an important component of the American day-to-day interactions allowed for her to rely on this future football player to serve as a “ward boy.”



Oral history interview with Constance Cline Phillips, 1999. WV0082.5.01. The Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina-Greensboro Libraries. Full text transcript available online:

Listen also to the oral history interview with Oneida Miller Stuart, an African American servicewoman in the Army Nurse Corps who worked at the Nichols General Hospital in 1945 – Oneida Stuart Collection (AFC/2001/001/4850), Veterans History Project, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress,

Race and Gender during WWII at Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky

January 16, 2011 in 1940s-1950s, Military history

Camp Breckinridge, a training center established during WWII that covered more than 35,000 acres of Henderson, Union, and Webster counties near Morganfield, Kentucky.  About 40,000 soldiers preparing for the war (including future baseball Hall of Famer Jackie Robinson and the  101st Airborne) stayed at the camp. The camp also held about 3,000 German and Italian prisoners of war before being deactivated in 1949.  Two stories connected with Camp Breckinridge illustrate critical components of race and gender in its history and the history of World War II.

"WACs expediting soldiers' mail at camp post office (November 1943)," Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Military photograph collection. Digital ID: 1260351In 1943, the first group of African-American women in the Women’s Army Corps (WACs) stationed in Kentucky transferred in to Camp Breckinridge to become supply clerks.  WACs were typically trained under the same conditions as men, but they got assigned clerical duties.  However, once the African-American women got to Camp Breckinridge, the officers assigned them to scrubbing floors and stacking beds.  1st Lieutenant Myrtle D.  Anderson and 2nd Lieutenant Margaret E. Barnes Jones complained to their superior officer Colonel Kelly, but incidents escalated.  White soldiers entered the women’s barracks at night, and officers had to protect them.  When assigned to wash the walls of the alundry, six women went on strike: Betrice Brashear, Gladys Morton, Margaret Coleman, Mae E. Nicholas and Viola Bessups (all from New York) and Ruth M. Jones from New Jersey.  After five days, they were allowed to resign from the Army “without honor” (for more see “6 WACs Resign: WAC clerks decline to scrub floors,” Philadelphia Afro American, 07/10/1943, pp. 1 & 15).

In another incident detailed in the Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, 2nd lieutenant Zelda Anderson of Maryland.  The post commander, Colonel Throckmorton, assigned her to become the mess officer, but she refused his orders. Find information more on wesbite best mobile casino uk.  In retribution, he removed her name from the list of WACs to go overseas and assigned her to organize the warehouse of Army regulation manuals.  He also assigned to assist her twelve other WACs, two German prisoners and a civilian (see the Zelda Anderson entry in War Stories: Veterans Remember World War II, edited by R.T. King).  Anderson gave her oral history interview in 1995 (archived at the University of Nevada Oral History Program).

Zelda Anderson (circa 1943) at Camp Breckinridge
click here to listen to an audio clip from her 1995 interview
Zelda Anderson remembers Colonel Throckmorton

Anderson remembered how the white civilian refused to work for her: a “fellow who the colonel had planted there to really be in charge. The first order I gave this young man, he said, ‘Uh-uh. Negroes don’t talk like that to white folks.’ So I said, ‘Well, darling, if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen,’ and he left. …. I lived out the rest of my days very happy in the army. If I had succumbed to the treatment that they had given other blacks before and not spoken up for myself, my morale would have been down, and I would have been doing work that I did not like. In this life you’ve got to speak up for yourself.”

***** For more information *****

Heady, Peyton. History of Camp Breckinridge (Lexington, Ky., 1987).

Moore, Brenda L. To serve my country, to serve my race: the story of the only African American WACs stationed overseas during World War II  (New York, N.Y., 1996).

Weinstein, Laurie Lee. Gender camouflage: women and the U.S. military (New York, N.Y., 1999)

by Gaurice

Anna Mac Clarke

October 13, 2010 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Military history, Social history

The Governor who got it

October 8, 2010 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Military history, Oral history, Political history

History is replete with ironies and this report on Edward T. Breathitt highlights it. A former governor of Kentucky (1963-1967) Breathitt oral history is house in the Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky. Breathitt defeated Nunn for the governorship in a race that could be considered a referendum on the civil rights movement.

Breathitt was born in Hopkinsville, Ky., into a family with a long history in politics. Breathitt County in south eastern Kentucky was named after the 11th governor who was a distant relative. His grand-father James Breathitt sr., was attorney general and one of his uncles James Breathitt jr, was a lieutenant governor.

Breathitt states that he was first consciously aware of segregation when he joined the military. He remembers talking about it with his roommate during his training to be a pilot. His roommate was from Purdue University and grew up in Evansville, IN. across the Ohio River from Henderson, Ky.  They, along with the other whites, were separate from the black cadets. It was happening in his home town but it never dawned on him to before that it was segregation. Years later he would play an important role in helping the civil rights movement in Kentucky.

Breathitt was endorsed for by then governor Bert T. Combs. Combs had signed an executive order desegregating accommodations in Kentucky and Breathitt campaign supported it. Nunn, promised to rescind the order if elected governor. As a governor Breathitt did not support George Wallace’s proposed constitutional amendment to give states and state courts sole jurisdiction over their public schools, preventing a federal law to integrate them. Without His opposition segregated schooling would no doubt have continued in Kentucky for many years

Anna Mae Clarke; Fighting for Equality

October 8, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, Military history

When looking for a historical woman of  influence from Kentucky, I came across the brave and honorable Anna Mae Clarke.  Born in Lawrenceburg KY in 1919, Clarke was constantly facing descrimination in her struggle for gender and race equality.  After getting a degree in Economics from Kentucky State University, Clarke struggled for work until landing in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC).  In 1943 after only a couple years of her being part of the WAC, the WAC joined forces with the United States Military.  Seeing this as an opportunity, Clarke successfully gained a posistion as an Officer and thus became the first black female to be in command of an all white company.  I think that while doing this, Clarke was able to effectively fight for equality on more levels than one.  She not only pushed the boundaries of the traditional military ideal that it’s only for men, she did it as an African American woman in 1943!  When Anna Mae Clarke first began her career she likely had no idea what kind of influence she would have or the figure that she would eventually become for women -as well as African Americans- in the fight for equality.  However, the obstacles that she overcame and achievements she made during her lifetime makes her quite the historic icon.  If not for the contributions Clarke made, the way that the military treats women, as well as African Americans, could be much different than they are in today’s society.

by rjones

Yuri Kochiyama [Mary Yuriko Nakahara]

September 28, 2010 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Military history, Social history

We too often think of civil rights activists as black or white. There were persons of other races and ethnicities who were very much involved in the civil rights movement, one being Yuri Kochiyama (born Mary Yuriko Nakahara) a Japanese-American. She was born in San Pedro, CA. Her father, an immigrant, was arrested in 1941 by the FBI after the bombing of Pearl Harbor during WWII. Kochiyama’s family was sent to an internment camp in Arkansas. The prejudice Kochiyama witnessed against Japanese Americans, led to her becoming a civil rights activist. She was present when Malcolm X was killed; she held his head as he was dying. Kochiyama was not new to the civil rights movement when Malcolm X died in 1965.

She is the author of ”Passing it On”.

To read more about Yuri Kochiyama, visit the following links:

Civil rights activist Yuri Kochiyama

Her devotion

Yuri Kochiyama

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