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"Right in front of Post Headquarters, segregation began for me in the Army." (Video interview, 20:58)

   Martha Settle Putney
Image of Martha Settle Putney
Martha Putney in uniform
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: WAAC (Women's Army Auxiliary Corps)
Rank: First Lieutenant
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By the time she entered the Women's Army Corps, Martha Putney already had an extensive resume: she had graduated from Howard University on a full scholarship, and earned a Master's degree in Modern European History. As she relates in her oral history interview, joining the Army was pragmatic, rather than political. While entering the military provided new opportunities, it also brought her face-to-face with more narrow points of view, as she confronted the realities of serving under segregation. As a female African American officer, she endured disrespect from her white colleagues, male and female, as well as harassment from civilians she encountered while traveling and at various duty stations. It was, as she relates, “a very lonely life.” After the war, using the GI Bill, she earned a doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Interview (Video)
»Interview Highlights  (6 clips)
»Complete Interview  (106 min.)
»Photo Album  (1 photo)
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 Video (Interview Excerpts) (6 items)
Making the decision to join the Women’s Army Corps. (02:59) Journey to Fort Des Moines; arriving there and confronting the segregated facilities; desegregating the Mess Hall on Saturdays and Sundays. (08:47) Support of black community near Fort Des Moines; loneliness; de facto segregation within the community. (01:34)
Incident in which her roommate arrived at night, and woke the next morning to find she had a black roommate; verbal abuse; roommate being forced to apologize. (07:44) Escorting troops from Midland, Texas, back to Iowa; being forced to sit in filthy conditions in the Jim Crow car; changing cars; conductor calling military officers; being taken back to Midland and given a plane ticket to Chicago. (07:16) Assigned to be the commanding officer of a WAC hospital company; arriving in Chicago and being told the community didn’t want blacks there; being harassed by civilians in the surrounding area. (05:45)

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  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
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