Saturday, January 12, 2013

Fighting for Democracy: Hazel Ying Lee and the Women Airforce Service Pilots

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Chinese immigrants and their families encountered many difficulties in their efforts to incorporate themselves into American society. Many were excluded from entering certain occupations due to their ethnic background, and, in 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act banned further immigration by Chinese people unless they could prove their American ancestry by paternal lineage. 

What do you think about policies that exclude people from immigrating to the US?  

One of the people whose story is told in the exhibit Fighting for Democracy is Hazel Ying Lee, pictured above. Born in Oregon in 1912, as Hazel grew older, she looked for employment in order to support her family. As a Chinese-American woman, employment discrimination made it so she could only find a job as an elevator operator. However, she discovered a passion for flying, and applied for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program during World War II.

WASP was founded in 1943 by women pilots who wanted the chance to serve in the Air Force in non-combat duties. Considered civilian volunteers and civil service workers, about 1,100 women flew stateside in the WASP program where they ferried supplies and even tested planes so that male pilots could head to combat duty. Lasting only two years, the WASP program's existence was classified to the public until the 1970s!

Despite her remarkable abilities, Hazel, like all other women pilots, was paid far less than her male counterparts when she entered the program. 

Did you know about the WASP program?
How much progress do you think women have made in securing equal rights/respect in the work place?

WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots) are briefed in ready room prior to a flight, Avenger Field, Sweetwater, Texas, May 1943;
Hazel is the person at the far right of the image.

Courtesy of the National Women's History Museum.

To learn how Hazel’s story ends, come view the exhibit Fighting for Democracy at Levine Museum of the New South from January 19th -July 14th, 2013. 

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