Anna Mae Hays – First Woman U.S. General

General Anna Mae Hays died on January 7, 2018

When Anna Mae Hays was born, it would be another six months before a woman’s right to vote was enshrined in the Constitution. Her lifespan, over the next 98 years, is a parable of the roads women traveled during the century following the Nineteenth Amendment.

Hays was an accomplished musician who wanted to study at Juilliard, but her family could not afford this extravagance, so she pursued one of the few professions open to women at the time: nursing. When the United States joined World War II, she enlisted as a nurse, one of the few ways a woman could serve as a military officer. Her term of office, as of other women, was for the duration of the war plus six months.

During two and one-half of those years she served in Ledo, Assam, Indian. In that time her hospital, situated at the beginning of the Burma Road, treated more than 49,000 patients. She was promoted to First Lieutenant and remained on active duty after the war, once again an opportunity possible only because she was a nurse.

At Fort Dix, New Jersey, she was an operating room supervisor and later head nurse of several wards. Her days were usually twelve hours long, six days a week. She was surprised one day when she was summoned to the office and promoted to captain.

Hoping that she could finally further her education, she planned to attend Columbia University. The Korean War, however, killed that notion, when she was assigned to serve overseas. She participated in the landing at Inchon and worked in a field hospital where they served 25,000 patients in only ten months. As the Chinese and North Koreans began overrunning the area, a rapid evacuation occurred. “I can remember traveling south from Inchon to Taegu by train in the middle of the night,” she said later, “not knowing when a railroad trestle over which we traveled would be blown up.”

After several other assignments, one of which was caring for President Eisenhower during a stay at Walter Reed Hospital, she finally had the opportunity to earn her bachelor’s degree at Columbia University Teachers College. She was 38, like many women of non-traditional age who earned degrees during the twentieth century. She would later earn a master’s degree.

Hays married, but her husband died after six years. He was gone by the time, as a full Colonel and head of the Army Nurse Corps, she went to Vietnam to assess the need for nurses in the Southeast Asian conflict.

Hays was promoted to Brigadier General in 1970, the First Woman in any branch of the service to reach this rank. General William Westmoreland, former commander in Vietnam, was present when she received her star. Later Westmoreland’s wife said to Hays, “I wish you would get married again. . .I want some man to learn what it’s like to be married to a general.”

Like many women leaders during her lifetime, Hays worked long hours and was diligent in supporting women. She advocated to get them promoted, to place them in prominent places, to strengthen their qualifications, to allow them to remain on duty while they were pregnant and had children, and to assure their spouses received the same benefits as those of men.

Both the advances and disappointments of women’s journey are present in the history of Anna Mae Hay’s life. Today we can celebrate that there are 69 general officers in the Army, Navy, Marines, and Air Force, but we must also recognize the work yet to be accomplished. Women comprise only 10% of the total number of general officers.

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Lt. General Michelle Johnson, Revisited

Four years ago, I wrote about Lieutenant General Michelle Johnson when she became the First Woman Superintendent of the U.S. Air Force Academy, making her the First Woman to lead any U.S. Service Academy. She had several other firsts: the First Woman cadet wing commander (the most senior ranking cadet) at the Air Force Academy, First Woman from the Academy to be inducted into the Academic All-American Hall of Fame, and the First Woman Rhodes Scholar from the Academy.

When she enrolled in the Academy, she was in the second coed class, and women comprised only 12% of the class. She says she was treated as if she didn’t belong but, now that almost one-third of the cadets are female, she says that doesn’t occur today.

Recently The Chronicle of Higher Education contained an interview with her, after four years as Superintendent—the length of one academic course of study. The interviewer focused on the challenge I mentioned in the earlier article, the need to address sexual assault at the Academy.

General Johnson confronted the issue head on. In her first address to the cadets she said, “a person of character [and Air Force officers are expected to be persons of character] doesn’t harm someone else, doesn’t violate their personal boundaries, doesn’t discriminate against somebody else.”

Johnson believes focusing on the characters of leaders she can affect change in this institution that has not only an honor code, but a commitment to producing leaders of character who treat others with respect. She believes this is possible in the Air Force because, “[In the military] If you can do the work, fly the plane—planes don’t really care what you look like or where you came from—your earn the respect of your colleagues.”

Academy graduates in all branches of service are more likely to achieve the highest ranks in the military, so we should see more women at the top in the future. Fingers crossed!

Navy Honors Grace Hopper

GRACE HOPPERThere has never been a building at any of the major military academies named after a woman—until now! The First Woman to have this honor is Grace Hopper whose name will grace the U.S. Naval Academy’s new cyber facility. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming and a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Hopper holds the title of First Woman in several other instances as well:

–She was the First Woman director at Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporation where she worked on compiler-based programming languages for UNIVAC. Back in the days before many others realized that someday we would all have computers, Grace Hopper was working to make computers accessible.

–She was the first recipient (not just woman) of the (catch the name) Science Man-of-the-Year award presented by the Data Processing Management Association in 1969.

–She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973. Not only was she the First Woman in the world to receive this honor, she was also the first person from the United States who was recognized.

Prior to the Naval Academy’s decision to name a building for her, Grace Hopper also had a guided missile destroyer christened in her name. I can’t help but wonder is she wasn’t a guided missile herself, aimed directly at destroying stereotypes about women.

(For more information about Grace Hopper, read my earlier blog from 2013)

First Women in Time’s 100 Most Influential People of 2016

TIME        Time magazine often highlights First Women in its annual list of 100 Most Influential People and this year was no exception. It is a pleasure to feature them on this blog posting, but also of interest is noting which people were selected by Time to write the profiles for the First Women. Three of these profilers hold firsts as well, two women and one man.

The one exception is the article on Angela Merkel, the first Chancellor of Germany. Honored for her work in accepting refugees, she was praised not by a First Woman but certainly by a powerful one: Samantha Power, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Ibtihaj Muhammad, an observant Muslim, was also featured. The First Woman to compete in the Olympic Games wearing her hijab, she will represent the United States States in the fencing competitions.

IBTIHAJ MUHAMMAD

               The article on her was written by Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress.

Christine Lagarde is also featured. As Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, she coordinates 100 nations in determining financial policies and assuring financial security. She was the First Woman to attain that position. She was also the First Woman to serve as Finance Minister in France, the First Woman in any developed country to reach that position. In the United States no woman has ever served as Secretary of the Treasury.

The article on Christine Lagarde was written by Janet Yellen, the First Woman Chair of the Federal Reserve System. Two years ago, when Janet Yellen was featured as one of the top 100, it was Christine Lagarde who wrote the article about Yellen’s achievements.

Another First Woman featured is Lori Robinson. At the time of publication Time could only anticipate the four-star general’s confirmation as the First Woman combatant commander. (She assumed the position on May 13, 2016.) She had previously led U.S. air forces in the Pacific, but now is the top general for military operations in North America with added responsibility for homeland security. It is one of the most senior positions in the U.S. military.

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        The article about her was written by Tammy Duckworth, a former Army helicopter pilot in Iraq. Currently a U.S. Representative from Illinois, she is the first Asian American Woman elected to Congress from Illinois and the First Woman disabled veteran to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Updating the Military with First Women

Screen Shot 2016-05-04 at 3.58.28 PM       In August, 2015 Captain Kristen Griest and First Lieutenant Shaye Haver completed the Army’s Ranger School. Now Captain Griest has just been named an infantry officer, the First Woman to be admitted to this specialty in the Army. This was made possible by Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter’s decision to open all branches and specialties to women.

This opportunity is important, not just in giving women more freedom in choose how they wish to serve, but also in providing women access to the specialties that routinely lead to a path for moving up the ranks. Although some women have reached the senior ranks in the military, it has been more difficulty for women as their opportunities to distinguish themselves in certain positions have been limited.

According to the Army Times, this is only the beginning.

        More women are expected to follow in her footsteps; The Army earlier this month announced that is had approved requests from 22 female cadets to enter as second lieutenants in the infantry and armor branches. . .

         In addition the Army has an eight-week application window so that female lieutenants can apply to be transferred to the infantry. To use a military metaphor, the wall has been breached.