War Pilot Leads the Way for Women Aviators
As a child in Phoenix, Ore., Mary Jean Barnes Sturdevant saw famed pilot Charles Lindbergh fly over Medford in August 1927 and drop a signed proclamation calling for the advancement of aviation. Mary Jean was hooked.
After graduating from Phoenix High in 1939, she became a student at Southern Oregon College of Education. In her science classes she met young men taking civilian pilot training through the college who asked her if she was interested. She was accepted into the college’s program held at the Medford airport. Sturdevant loved the program and obtained a ground instructor’s rating. Though only 19 years old, she taught classes for the Army Air Corps at Medford High and Washington State University before joining the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots, known as the WASPs, in 1944.
Many people resisted the idea of having women in the Air Corps. Of the 25,000 women who signed up for the WASP program, only 1,074 completed the training. Sturdevant was assigned to the WASP Training Command in California, where she taught thousands of men to fly.
The WASPs freed up male pilots for duty overseas and paved the way for today’s female military pilots.
Sources: "Mary Jean Sturdevant nee Barnes." Bristol Productions Ltd. Olympia, WA: 1-16. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. www.wwiihistoryclass.com/education/transcripts/Sturdevant_M_140.pdf; Fattig, Paul. "The sky was the limit for 1939 Phoenix High School graduate." Mail Tribune 7 Feb. 2010 [Medford OR]. Web. 13 Feb. 2016.