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Clipped Wings

The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) of World War II

Molly Merryman

Publication Year: 1998

During World War II, all branches of the military had women's auxiliaries. Only the Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) program, however, was comprised entirely of women who flew dangerous missions more commonly associated with and desired by men.

Within military hierarchies, the World War II pilot was projected as the most dashing and desirable of servicemen. "Flyboys" were the daring elite of the United States military. More than the WACs (Army), WAVES (Navy), SPARS (Coast Guard), or Women Marines, the WASPs directly challenged these assumptions of male supremacy in wartime culture. WASPs flew the fastest fighter planes and heaviest bombers; they test-piloted experimental models and worked in the development of weapons systems. Yet the WASPs were the only women's auxiliary within the armed services of World War II that was not militarized.

In Clipped Wings, Molly Merryman draws upon military documents (many of which were declassified only in the 1980s), congressional records, and interviews with the women who served as WASPs during World War II, to trace the history of the over 1,000 pilots who served their country as the first women to fly military planes. She examines the social pressures which culminated in their disbandment in 1944—even though a wartime need for their services still existed—and documents their struggles and eventual success, in 1977, to gain military status and receive veterans benefits.

Published by: NYU Press


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TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. viii-viii

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pp. ix-x

This project was made possible by the interests and efforts of many. Those who were involved with my dissertation (the first draft of this book) at Bowling Green State University deserve recognition for their guidance and support. They include my advisor, Ellen Berry, and committee members William Grant, Alberto Gonzalez, and Karen Gould. Arlene...


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pp. xi-xii

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-5

This book examines the accomplishments and struggles of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II—their service, their premature disbandment, and how they finally got some of the recognition they deserved. The events, perceptions, and opinions that culminated in the disbandment of the WASPs are contextualized within theories of feminist history...

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2. The Development of the Women Airforce Service Pilots: From Guarded Experiment to Valuable Support Role

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pp. 6-29

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II performed an essential role in the United States’ war effort. The nation’s first women pilots of military planes, WASPs flew every model in the Army Air Forces’ (AAF) arsenal, including multi-engine bombers, pursuit (fighter) planes, cargo planes, and even the first American military jet planes. “We did...

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3. Becoming Soldiers: Tracing WASP Expansion and Plans for Militarization

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pp. 30-43

As the Women Airforce Service Pilots program expanded in 1943 and 1944, the Army Air Forces, realizing that the experimental use of women pilots was successful, began to examine how the newly defined program should be constituted. Several possibilities for the status of the women’s pilot program existed: civil service or civilian standing, incorporation under the Women’s...

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4. From Praise to Rancor: Media Opinion Changes as Men Return from Battle

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pp. 44-74

Perhaps the most important factor leading to the demise of the Women Airforce Service Pilots program was a negative media campaign precipitated in part by the return of combat pilots from overseas and the release of Army Air Forces cadets and pilot trainers into the “walking Army” for service in anticipated large-scale ground assaults against Japan’s military. The...

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5. No Allies for the WASPs: Congress Responds to Male Public Interest Groups

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pp. 75-101

The powerful lobby assembled by the male civilian pilots focused its attentions on Congress as well as the media. The pilots initiated a letterwriting campaign to Congress that was backed by powerful male aviation associations and veterans groups, and they began to lobby individual members of Congress. When the group learned that House Committee on Military Affairs...

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6. They’ll Be Home for Christmas: The WASP Program Disbands

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pp. 102-130

Following the defeat of the House Resolution 4219 on June 22, 1944, the Army Air Forces was faced three choices regarding future actions for obtaining WASP militarization. First, it could push for passage of Senate Bill 1810, a WASP militarization bill that had been submitted to the Senate Military Affairs Committee and was awaiting debate. If the War Department encouraged...

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7. On a Different Battlefield: The WASP Fight for Militarization after the War

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pp. 131-156

The disbandment of the Women Airforce Service Pilots and the Allied victory in World War II did not end WASPs’ attempts to receive veterans’ status or other recognition for their wartime service. In 1945, former WASPs placed their hopes on the Senate WASP bill that had been introduced at the same time as the defeated House bill, but because of the great media opposition...

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8. Recognizing the Gendered Warrior: History and Theory Intersect with the Fate of the WASPs

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pp. 157-281

The Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II were disbanded before the war’s end, and before the women who had served in the program received the militarization promised them, simply because the culture in which they existed was not prepared for women to succeed in roles that were associated with and desired by men. Events and situations surrounding the group’s disbandment in 1944 and the struggle of members to obtain militarization...

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9. Coda

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pp. 182-184

The story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots is far from being over. The majority of the more than eight hundred WASPs living today regularly attend the national biennial reunions and numerous regional reunions. The vitality of the national organization of WASP veterans is considerable. “It is probably the strongest support group I have other than my own family. We...


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pp. 185-208


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pp. 209-226


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pp. 227-238

About the Author

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pp. 239-239

E-ISBN-13: 9780814759707
E-ISBN-10: 081475970X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814755679
Print-ISBN-10: 0814755674

Page Count: 251
Publication Year: 1998

OCLC Number: 45844055
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Clipped Wings

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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Participation, Female.
  • Women air pilots -- United States -- History.
  • World War, 1939-1945 -- Aerial operations, American.
  • Women Airforce Service Pilots (U.S.).
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