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“In October 1944 when the Navy said it was ready for me and I said, ‘Take me,’ I was not consciously making a statement about race relations.” (Memoir, page 25)

   Frances E. Wills Thorpe
Image of Frances E. Wills Thorpe
Frances Thorpe seated in military uniform
War: World War, 1939-1945
Branch: WAVES (Navy Women's Reserve)
Service Location: Northampton, Massachusetts; New York, New York
Rank: Ensign
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In 1944, Frances Wills Thorpe, a young African American social worker from Pennsylvania, became one of the first two African American officers in the Navy’s WAVES (Women Accepted into Volunteer Emergency Service) program. Along with Harriet Pickens, she trained at Smith College, and then was sent to Hunter Naval Training Station in the Bronx, teaching Naval history to incoming recruits. For Thorpe, integrating the WAVES carried with it a sense of isolation that persisted throughout her time in the service. She recalls her Navy days in her memoir, which describes a life filled with achievement and adventure, including experiences such as befriending the poet Langston Hughes, living as an ex-patriot in Paris, and counseling battle-scarred veterans after the war.

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 Memoir
»Untitled Memoir by Frances E. Wills Thorpe
[PDF: 1 MB / 344 p.]
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  October 26, 2011
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