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New Air Force Museum exhibit spotlights women's integral roles in the service

“Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow,” at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, highlights civilian and military women and their achievements in aviation.

U.S. AIR FORCE

By THOMAS GNAU | Dayton Daily News, Ohio | Published: March 5, 2021

DAYTON, Ohio (Tribune News Service) — Women have played integral roles in Air Force history even before there was an Air Force, and a new exhibit at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force brings new attention to that dimension of military history.

The exhibit, titled "Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow," surveys historical milestones, changes in laws and attitudes and the many contributions of women to the Air Force mission.

Air Force Museum Curator Christina Douglass said the role of women in aviation, the U.S. Army Air Corps and the Air Force has never been neglected at the museum. But this exhibit ties strands of history together in new ways that makes the subject ripe for exploration.

"There has been a ton of women's history in the Department of the Air Force," Douglass said in an interview. "Unfortunately, it just was never necessarily at the forefront."

But it was an area museum curators thought deserves new focus. The displays can be found throughout the museum, shedding light on women in the Air Force from different eras.

"It was something we thought was important to highlight now, especially considering the greater role that women in the military are playing all around," Douglass said. "The Air Force has always been a leader and has always advocated for including women and continues to do so."

Here, visitors can see the story of Jacqueline Cochran, an early pilot who broke men's distance, altitude, and speed records in her time. Her story can be seen in the museum's Early Years and World War II galleries, as well as throughout the museum.

Cochran would go on to found and direct the Women's Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, and in 1945, she was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat award.

Here as well, in the Cold War Gallery, visitors can see the flight uniforms of the first 10 female graduates of the Air Force's undergraduate pilot training program.

"We have all 10 of their flight suits on exhibit," Douglass said. "There are 10 women who were the first 10, they made it through the program, and they said, 'Here we are; women are going to be pilots.'"

Among the many other highlights: One section called "Significant Women Silhouette," covering a range of achievements such as the first American woman to fly solo in an airplane (Blanche Stuart Scott); the first woman to fly non-stop across the Atlantic Ocean (Amelia Earhart); the Air Force's first female physician (Capt. Dorothy Elias); and more.

The new exhibit will officially open in a live-streamed event at 6:30 p.m. Friday. (Viewers may watch beginning at 6:20 p.m. for a pre-event video at www.nationalmuseum.af.mil/Upcoming/Women-in-Air-Force/).

Guest speakers for the evening's event will include Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Joanne Bass; Space Force Director of Staff Lt. Gen. Nina Armagno; and Air Force Materiel Command Executive Director Patricia Young

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