Virginia Mae Hope
Virginia Mae Hope
WWII aviation pioneer
Virginia Mae Hope was born on August 17, 1921 in Winnebago, Minnesota. She was the only child born to Robert and Addaline Hope. She grew up on her family farm during the Great Depression. Times were rough; foreclosure was common on many family farms. Virginia knew people who went on government assistance just to get by. But, Virginia loved what farm life had to offer. Taking on uncharacteristic roles, she helped with the harvest, rode horses, and hunted pheasant.
While attending Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, Virginia enrolled in the government sponsored civilian pilot training program (CPT). In 1941, Virginia obtained her private and commercial pilot licenses, the same year Pearl Harbor was bombed. She was twenty years old. She went to work at a Minneapolis airport as an air traffic controller. Though it was considered “men’s work”, Virginia wanted to help on the home front. She was hired because many men were being sent overseas to fight the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy.
On May 26, 1943, Virginia was accepted into the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) and spent six months at their training camp in Sweetwater, Texas. The WASP was part of the Army Air Forces’ World War II civilian pilot recruitment program, created to help the war effort by freeing military pilots of combat duty. She graduated, “earning her silver wings” on November 13, 1943. Virginia was just one of 1,074 out of 25,000 women to do so.
The WASP, under the direction of famed pilot Jackie Cochran, logged 60 million miles. They ran supplies and medical patients, towed aerial gunnery targets, and ferried, or flew, transporting military personnel. After graduation Virginia was assigned to the Army Air Forces Weather Wing, at Patterson Field, Ohio. Her job was to fly Weather Service personnel and planes on military missions.
As World War II ended, Virginia, like all other WASP, received letters from General “Hap” Arnold (the head of the Army Air Forces) and Jacqueline Cochran (the head of the WASP program). These letters announced the disbandment of the WASP on December 20, 1944. Many WASP were told they could stay on as secretaries. Few women remained pilots, since most airlines would not hire women to fly. Some of the major airlines sent letters asking if they wished to become flight attendants.
Virginia, however, obtained a ferrying job with Reconstruction Finance flying war- wearied planes to the scrap heap. On December 7, 1944, the same day her parent’s received a letter saying that she would be home for Christmas, Virginia boarded a military plane as a passenger. The plane crashed at takeoff. All seventeen people aboard died. Virginia used to say “Isn’t it wonderful!” about her WASP career.
Not until 33 years after the program was disbanded, during the women’s rights movement in 1977, did Congress recognize the WASP as military pilots or grant them veteran status. Two years later, the secretary of defense, Harold Brown, declared the service of the WASP to be active military, the final act in recognizing them as true veterans. In June 2002, after much controversy, the first WASP was given a full military burial at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington D.C.
Time Period Overview
The Great Depression
In October of 1929, the stock market crashed which led to widespread poverty and panic. For many Americans, this marked the start of the Great Depression. But for Virginia Mae Hope and other Minnesota farm families, the financial pinch had started many years before. In 1922, when Virginia Mae Hope was only one year old, her family and many others began to feel extreme financial pressures stemming from a decrease in demand for their farm's products. WWI had ended and with it, the increased demand for Minnesota grown wheat, corn and other crops ended as well.
By 1922, prices started to plummet and farmers were paid less than half of what they had made three years earlier. Farmers that owed money for their land had a difficult time keeping up with the bills. Many farmers were forced into foreclosure and ended up on goverment aid. Virginia Mae Hope's family wre lucky; they kept their farm despite the tough times. They bred Collie dogs and grew gladiolas to help make ends meet.
In 1927, when Virginia was six years old, Minnesotan Charles Lindbergh became the first pilot to fly alone nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean between New York and Paris. This propelled the possibility of flight into the minds of many young children who gathered around the radio to listen to the latest news on Lindbergh's journey.
In 1932, during the heart of the Great Depression, many people gathered around the radio to hear about the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With his election, a new age was ushered in, one in which Roosevelt promised the American people "a new deal." By 1933, a new federal agency, the Agricultural Adjustment Adminstration (AAA) started a program to help farmers raise prices and provide relief. Things were beginning to look up for rural Minnesota farmers.
World War II
While most of Minnesota and the world was coping with the hardships of the Great Depression, a second world war was brewing. Germany's dictator, Adolph Hitler, promised to restore his country's strength in part by annexing land from neighboring countries. In 1939, his troops invaded Poland. Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union declared war in response.
Virginia Mae Hope had just obtained her commercial and private pilot's license on December 7, 1941 when Japanese pilots attacked the Unites States naval base at Hawaii's Pearl Harbor. Outraged, the United States joined the war as a Allied nation with Great Britain, France and the Soviet Union.
World War II changed Minnesotans in many ways. It created new jobs and the economy began to grow. Men went overseas to fight in the war and women on the homefront assumed new roles and responsibilities. The workforce at a Minneapolis company which designed high altitude suits for pilots was completely run by women, including the company head; the only male was a department store dummy.
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to help recruit civilian women volunteers for service. Some women joined military groups like WACS (Women's Army Corps) or WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) and others, like Virginia Mae Hope, joined WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots).
As the war waxed on, everyone had to make sacrifices. In the spring of 1942, The US government began to ration certain foods and products deemed necessary for the war effort and the soldiers overseas. Women on the homefront pitched in by planting vegetable gardens and creating new recipes for foods like prune sandwiches.
Finally, in May of 1945, Germany surrendered. In August, the United States dropped the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On September 2, Japan surrendered. The war was over and the Allies had won.