The uniform of a female aviation pioneer resides in the collection of the North Carolina Museum of History. The 18 items of clothing and gear were issued during World War II to Kate Lee Adams, who served as a member of the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).
Adams, who donated the items to the Museum of History shortly before her death in 2002, was an advocate in her later years for getting recognition for the WASP program. Donated items include a trench coat, a billed flight cap, an Eisenhower-style jacket, trousers, coveralls, a blue service skirt and a blue dress beret.
Women’s Airforce Service Pilots were organized as a reaction to the increased need for pilots following the attack by Japan on Pearl Harbor. Adams and more than 1,000 other young female pilots volunteered for service.
Although throughout the program’s existence many people dismissed the idea of women flying military planes, WASP pilots served with distinction. They flew supplies, delivered new aircraft to air bases and taught air cadets. The program was discontinued in 1944, and records of the WASPs were sealed for more than 35 years.
WASPs were stationed at two facilities in North Carolina during World War II: the Asheville Weather Wing Headquarters and Camp Davis Army Air Field, near Holly Ridge.
At the Asheville Weather Wing HQ, WASP personnel flew UC-78s, AT-11s, C-60s, B-25s ferrying non-flying personnel, transporting documents and cargo, and helped establish routes for B-29s and weather flights. At Camp Davis, they flew A-24s and A-25s towing targets, flying radar deception missions, night target-towing missions, and tracking missions.
Kate Lee Adams was profiled in 2003 for the “Tar Heel Junior Historian.” In the article, author Sandra O. Boyd writes, “In the 1970s, soon after their 30th reunion, WASP veterans were very excited to hear that the navy was training a small group of women to be military pilots. But media reports stated that this would be the first time women had flown military aircraft. “Adams was quoted as saying, “The WASP got their stingers out!”
Boyd goes on to say, “Their story had never been told. For thirty years, the government had kept their records sealed, and not many Americans knew of their contributions. So the WASP began to publicize their World War II service.”
In July, President Barack Obama signed a bill to award the WASP the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress. The Congressional Gold Medal was awarded March 10 at the U.S. Capitol.
To read more about the Adams collection, go to the home page of the North Carolina Museum of History at www.ncmuseumofhistory.org, click on “Artifacts,” then “Search the Collections” and then enter “Adams, Kate Lee.”
The N.C. Department of Cultural Resources is the state agency with the mission to enrich lives and communities and the vision to harness the state’s cultural resources to build North Carolina’s social, cultural and economic future. For information on the Department of Cultural Resources, call (919) 807-7385 or visit www.ncculture.com.
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