Date of Award

5-2003

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

History

Major Professor

G. Kurt Piehler

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine how far the women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II were able to push the parameters of the social, political and economic limits of American society. This work establishes that these women were extraordinary when compared to their white, middle class peers and so were among the most likely of American women to both be willing and able to succeed at achieving their life goals, despite the society's limits on women. While traditional archival sources such as government documents, contemporary newspapers and magazines were utilized, the primary source for this study was the over 150 personal histories the author gathered from WASP from 1996 to 2002. With these histories and other memoirs the author created an extensive database that tracked the women from their youth to the present. With this information she was able to determine both what the women wanted and what they did with their lives. The limits they faced in reaching their goals and what they did to overcome those limits reveals a great deal about American society and its behavior toward women. The women of the WASP worked together to achieve their goal of continuing to fly after the War. While a number of them made a career out of flying, many more found other career paths rather than continuing to work in the expensive and male dominated world of aviation. Regardless, these women as a group continued to be ahead of their peers whether in their careers, their return to work after having children, or their determination to lead their lives on their own terms. The WASP provide an example of how far American women of their age cohort were able to push the limits of American society.

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