As the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment that extended voting rights to women is being commemorated this year, the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is honoring women with a new exhibit titled “Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow,” which highlights achievements in their civilian and military careers with an emphasis on the U.S. Air Force and its predecessors. The exhibit, which is currently being installed in several galleries throughout the museum, will be completed in early 2021 and covers historical issues; changes in laws and attitudes; and women’s contributions to the Air Force mission.
Many of the displays contain one of a kind artifacts used by women in the Air Force from many different eras, which allow visitors to better understand their story and experiences, said museum Curator Krista Dunkman.
“This exhibit will feature over 60 artifacts that have never been seen on public display before, including space flown objects, unique uniform items, and even a concrete duck sculpture,” said Dunkman. “What I love about these artifacts is that in addition to showcasing the accomplishments of these women, they also speak to who they were as people and their immense dedication to serving the U.S. Air Force despite many challenges.”
Prior to the Korean War, women served in the U.S. armed forces for brief periods but returned to domestic life in peacetime. However, based on their vital contributions during World War II, the Army requested full permanent military status for women. On June 12, 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act authorizing women to serve permanently in all military branches.
The museum’s exhibits and curatorial staff recently finished installing the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act in the Korean War Gallery, and the Significant Women Silhouette in the Southeast Asia Gallery. The Significant Women Silhouette introduces visitors to a variety of women who have made major breakthroughs and created new opportunities for women in the U.S. Air Force. The Women’s Armed Services Integration Act further highlights women’s perseverance to create new possibilities for women including the story of Sgt. Esther Blake, who was the first woman to enlist in the U.S. Air Force, and opened the door for thousands of other women who have followed in her path.
By the end of Oct, museum staff will complete the installation of the Moving Toward Equality display in the Cold War Gallery, which illuminates the numerous policy changes required to create a more equal environment for women to serve alongside their male colleagues, including new regulations on maternity.
Other exhibits in the Cold War Gallery that highlight women’s expanded role in aviation include displays on the first women to graduate from Undergraduate Pilot Training in 1977, and the first women to serve in aerial combat positions. Famed aviator Jacqueline Cochran’s lifetime experience in aviation will also be highlighted showcasing her breakthroughs with the creation of the WASP, breaking the sound barrier, and space exploration.
In the coming months, additional displays that will be added include Women on the Edge; Women in Space; Women Leading the Way; Operation BABYLIFT; Building the Future; and Ambassadors in Blue.
Designing an exhibit of this magnitude was certainly a challenge said museum Design Specialist Luke Maynard, who lead the team in designing the exhibit. “This exhibit is unlike any other because the size and scope is so large with various elements throughout the museum, but it is also unique because the materials we chose and the colors we selected are highly symbolic,” said Maynard. “A good example can be seen in the Significant Women Silhouette display, which contains steel plating representing the tough walls these women had to break through and the doors that are now open for others to follow, and even the sunset/sunrise orange font, which signifies that the sun is setting on an old way of thinking and rising anew.”
According museum Curator Jennifer Blankinship, telling the story of what women in the Air Force have overcome and their contributions to support the mission is a significant chapter in Air Force history, and by expanding the museum’s exhibits to better represent the role of women, the museum is able to better highlight how vital the contributions of each Airman is to the future of the Air Force. “Courageous women have broken barriers in all walks of life and those in the Air Force are certainly no different,” said Blankinship. “It has always been important for us to tell the story of what women in the Air Force have accomplished, and it is my hope that this exhibit will inspire future generations to pursue their goals regardless of how difficult it might seem.”
For the latest updates and photos on “Women in the Air Force: From Yesterday into Tomorrow,” visit www.nationamuseum.af.mil or follow along on the museum’s social media pages.
The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio, is the world’s largest military aviation museum. With free admission and parking, the museum features more than 350 aerospace vehicles and missiles and thousands of artifacts amid more than 19 acres of indoor exhibit space. Each year more than 800,000 visitors from around the world come to the museum. For more information, visit www.nationalmuseum.af.mil.