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.
For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.