A LOOK AT THE JUNIOR LEAGUE’S MILITARY MIGHT
Since the early days of their organization, the women of The Junior League have been playing critical roles in various branches of the military, exemplifying perhaps one of the noblest interpretations of what it means to be a civic leader.
To mark Veterans Day and Rememberance Day, we are celebrating not only the military contributions of the Junior League women who came before us but also the achievements of those who have served in more recent times.
Here are just a few of the many:
During World War II, Flight Officer Kathleen Walsh Walker of The Junior League of Montreal assumed leadership of Royal Canadian Air Force’s Women’s Division (RCAF-WD), which provided air and ground crews. Margaret Eaton of The Junior League of Toronto and Junior League of Winnipeg member Frances S. Aitkins became the two highest-ranking officers in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), whose members worked as drivers, cooks, clerks, messengers, and canteen helpers. Together they took the first contingent of CWACs overseas. By the end of the war, more than 45,000 Canadian women had signed up to serve and 3,000 CWACs were serving in war zones.
In 1941, Oveta Culp Hobby of The Junior League of Houston was named First Commander of the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), a job in which she traveled the country—carrying with her an electric fan and iron to press her colonel’s uniform—to groups of men and women about the role of women in the military. In 1953 she went on to serve as the first U.S. Secretary of Health, Education & Welfare.
World War II inspired Jean Tilford Palmer of The Junior League of Omaha to enlist in the U.S. Navy’s WAVES, a unit of Women Approved for Volunteer Emergency Service. She exited the Navy after the war as Captain Palmer and as director of the program. She subsequently became the director of admissions and general secretary of Barnard College.
In 1943, at the age of 24, Cornelia Fort, a member of The Junior League of Nashville, was killed in a mid-air collision while delivering an aircraft from Long Beach, California to a military base near Love Field in Dallas as part of her duties for the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS), later known as the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). Having narrowly escaped a Japanese combat plane at Pearl Harbor in 1941, she was the first female pilot to be killed on active duty in American history.
Junior League of Seattle member Rachel Chiavaras, a veteran of the U.S. Army, parlayed her military experience into a career working with veterans and soldiers on active duty who have undergone Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD, and exploring the healing effects of therapy dogs. Certified in emergency management, active shooter scenarios, and disaster relief training through the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA, she runs her own not-for-profit called Calvin’s Kids, which uses therapy dogs to assist children who’ve experienced trauma.
Jeannie Deakyne of The Junior League of Arlington draws on her 12 years of experience with the U.S. Army in managing faculty and staff learning and development initiatives at the University of Texas at Arlington in areas such as diversity and inclusion and leadership development. Militarily, her notable achievements, among numerous others, include commanding all U.S. operations at the Baghdad International Airport; processing nine million pieces of mail; and ensuring the readiness of 2,000 troops for humanitarian relief efforts after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
After graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy, Junior League of Schenectady and Saratoga Counties member Sarah Stotz spent time on the U.S.S. Enterprise, the U.S.S. O’Brien, and at the Pentagon. As a Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer she led nuclear mechanics in the operations of a propulsion plant comprised of turbines, pumps, compressors, and valves, and, as an Information Systems Officer, she commanded technicians in the maintenance of communications equipment, navigation, and ship operations. Currently she develops licensing partnerships for GE that result in new uses for its technology around the world.
Now serving as the director of operations for the Alliance for Women and Children, Lauren Kimball previously served as a Public Affairs Officer in the U.S. Air Force. In this capacity, The Junior League of Abilene member supervised and synchronized a 15-person multimedia team and coordinated responses to hot topics including aircraft loss, new capabilities, and casualties for stories covered by The New York Times, Wired, CNN, and other leading media outlets.
Far from exhaustive, this short list does not even include the women of The Junior League who are still serving the military on active duty or as vital reserves.