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Strohfus, Elizabeth (Betty) Wall (1919–2016)

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Photograph of Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Betty Strohfus, ca. 1940s.

Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Betty Strohfus, ca. 1940s.

Elizabeth (Betty) Wall Strohfus fell in love with flying airplanes in the 1940s and became a Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) during World War II. She fought for WASP veteran recognition in the 1970s, and from the 1990s until her death, she traveled across the country to tell her story and inspire others.

Elizabeth Bridget Wall was born on November 15, 1919, in Faribault, Minnesota, to Daniel and Julia Anne Wall. After graduating high school in 1937, she worked at the Rice County Courthouse in the Register of Deeds office. It was there that she met a member of the local Sky Club, who introduced her to flying planes.

In 1939, as the shortage of male pilots in World War II worsened, Jacqueline Cochran suggested using female pilots. Cochran, a pilot herself, had competed in air races and later became the director of the WASP program. Thanks to her support, the WASPs were created in 1943 so that women could fly planes at home while men went overseas. Wall joined the WASPs that same year. After meeting the required thirty-five hours of flight time, she went to Sweetwater, Texas, for her training.

When the female trainees arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, they encountered many who doubted their abilities and believed women shouldn’t fly. The WASPs set out to prove them wrong. They learned how to train male combat pilots and ferried planes across the country. Wall trained in Sweetwater until February 1944. From there she went to the Las Vegas Army Airfield gunnery school and got a job as an instrument instructor.

The WASPs officially disbanded on December 20, 1944. Wanting to continue her flying career, Wall applied for a job at Northwest Airlines, only to be told that women did not fly commercially. From there, she went to air traffic control school in Kansas City and then worked in Nebraska. It was a lonely job, however, and Wall decided to quit. She held several jobs after the WASPs disbanded but was unhappy and returned to Faribault.

Soon after, Wall’s old boyfriend Arthur Roberts asked her out, and they were married on December 27, 1947. They had five children in five years. While raising them, Betty worked at the courthouse, volunteered with the Cancer Society, and participated in American Legion Auxiliary activities, among others. Her first husband died in 1969. She later married Francis Langeslag and Martin Strohfus, both of whom died before her. Impacted by her mother’s and sister’s deaths from cancer, Wall worked for the American Cancer Society in New York from 1972 until 1979 and travelled around the country.

WASPs didn’t receive recognition for their service for many years. In 1976, newspapers reported women flying military planes in Panama for the first time in history. However, the WASPs knew that they had been first. Many sent letters to congressmen while others, like Wall, went to Washington, DC, to speak out. After many decades without recognition, the WASPs were granted veteran status on March 8, 1979.

After being interviewed by teacher Cheryl Young in 1991, Strohfus travelled around the country to tell her story and inspire others. She presented at schools, clubs, museums, and a 1997 banquet for Northwest Airlines, which had rejected her decades before. In April 2001 she was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame. She died on March 6, 2016, at the age of ninety-six.

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Biography. Jacqueline Cochran.
https://www.biography.com/people/jacqueline-cochran-9252061

Giles, Kevin. “Obituary: Betty Wall Strohfus, WASP Pilot and Advocate for Women Who Flew During World War II.” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 19, 2016.
http://www.startribune.com/obituary-betty-wall-strohfus-wasp-pilot-and-advocate-for-women-who-flew-during-world-war-ii/372709861/

Roberts, Patrick. And Still Flying...The Life and Times of Elizabeth “Betty” Wall. Faribault, MN: Walking Shadow Publications, 2003.

Strohfus, Elizabeth. Love at First Flight: One Woman's Experience as a WASP in World War II...and Fifty Years Later, She's Still Flying. St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press, 1994.

WASP on the Web. WASP FAQs.
http://wingsacrossamerica.us/wasp/facts.htm

Women of World War II. WASP Aviators.
http://www.womenofwwii.com/armywasps.html

Related Images

Photograph of Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Betty Strohfus, ca. 1940s.
Photograph of Women Airforce Service Pilot (WASP) Betty Strohfus, ca. 1940s.
Photograph of Betty Strohfus, September 27, 2012.
Photograph of Betty Strohfus, September 27, 2012.
Photograph of Betty Strohfus, September 27, 2012.
Photograph of Betty Strohfus, September 27, 2012.

Turning Point

Due to the shortage of male pilots in World War II, the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program is created in August 1943. Elizabeth Wall, already in love with flying, hurries to meet the requirements to become a pilot and heads to Sweetwater, Texas, for training.

Chronology

1919

Elizabeth Wall is born in Faribault on November 15.

1939

Jacqueline Cochran suggests that women work as pilots in World War II so more male combat pilots can go overseas.

1943

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program is created in August.

1943

Elizabeth Wall joins the WASPs soon after their creation and goes to Sweetwater, Texas.

1944

Wall finishes her training in Sweetwater; in February, she goes to Las Vegas Army Airfield to fly pursuit planes.

1944

1944: The WASP program officially disbands on December 20.

1947

Wall marries Arthur Roberts on December 27, and starts a family while working and volunteering.

1969

Wall’s first husband, Arthur Roberts, dies.

1972

Wall begins working for the American Cancer Society, travelling across the country.

1979

The WASPs receive veteran recognition on March 8

1979

Wall marries Francis Langeslag in November and retires.

1990

After Langeslag’s death in 1988, Wall marries Martin Strohfus in July.

1991

Strohfus is interviewed by teacher Cheryl Young about her WASP experience, which inspires her to present her story to others.

1991

In August, Strohfus pilots her first flight in a military aircraft since 1944, in St. Paul.

2016

Strohfus dies on March 6, at the age of ninety-six.