African-American Women in the Military

Who was Harriet M. Waddy (West)?

On August 21, 1943, Harriet M. Waddy West (1904–1999) became the first black woman major in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), which later became the Women’s Army Corps (WAC). She was at the time chief of planning in the Bureau of Control Division at WAAC Headquarters in Washington, D.C. Waddy was born in Jefferson City, Missouri, and was a graduate of Kansas State College of Agriculture and Applied Science. During the Great Depression, she worked as an aide to noted educator and civic leader Mary McLeod Bethune, who no doubt influenced Waddy’s decision to join the WAAC. She entered officer candidate school in 1942. During World War II, Waddy was one of the two highest-ranking black officers in the WAAC and served as its wartime advisor on racial issues. She was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1948 and served on active duty until she retired in 1952; she remained in the Reserves until 1969. During her time after retirement from active military duty, she worked for the Federal Aviation Administration and also served as a counselor for girls at a Job Corps Center in Oregon. Waddy was an active recruiter of black women for the WAAC and served for a time as an aide to its director, Oveta Culp Hobby. She also campaigned against the existing racial discrimination in the military. She moved to Las Vegas in 1998 and was in residence there at the time of her death.


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