Alumna Receives Congressional Gold Medal
March 30, 2010
Emmanuel alumna Rita "Edna" Murphy Wischmeyer '43, along with about 200 other women who served as Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during World War II, received a Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor given by the U.S. Congress, on March 10th. United States Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, House Republican Leader John Boehner, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and members of Congress held a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony on Capitol Hill to recognize these women with the long-overdue award.
Wischmeyer was a sophomore at Emmanuel when she was inspired by a newspaper article about a government civilian pilot training program at Northeastern University. She applied and was accepted into the training program as the only female student in a class of 10 and earned her pilot's license in June 1941. After graduating from Emmanuel in 1943, she was accepted into the group of women airforce service pilots and went to Sweetwater, TX for Air Force training. She was assigned to Craig Army Air Field in Selma, AL, an advanced flight training base where she flew as an AT-6 engineering test pilot and was an administrative pilot.
Wischmeyer became one of more than 1,000 women air force service pilots during World War II. The WASPs were a pioneering group of civilian female pilots employed to fly military aircrafts under the direction of the United States Army Air Forces more than 60 years ago. They flew fighter, bomber, transport and training aircrafts in defense of America's freedom. These women, however, were never classified as military personnel but rather as civil servants. They paid for their own training, were ordered to return their uniforms as the war was winding down, and had to make their own way home. When disbanded in 1945 their records were sealed and went unrecognized for years.
In 1977, the U.S. Air Force announced that it was training the first group of women to ever fly military aircraft. The WASPs spoke up, exposing the fact that they had flown military aircraft years ago, finally uncovering their story and gaining their due respect. Consequently, Congress passed a law giving the WASPs' veteran benefits for the first time. Last year, Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Representative Susan Davis of California sponsored a bill to honor the women with a Congressional Gold Medal. The bill was signed into law by President Barack Obama in July 2009.
Through their actions, the WASPs served as the catalyst for revolutionary reform in the integration of women pilots into the Armed Services. Nearly 200 WASPs attended the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony accompanied by their proud friends and family members, including Wischmeyer with six of her children. According to Emmanuel alumna Joan McAuliffe '43, one of Wischmeyer's closest friends, Wischmeyer was honored to be a part of this groundbreaking group of female aviators.
"She has always been one who liked to do things," said Joan of Edna. "It was just something she had in her mind that she felt she would like to do that was different. She was delighted that she and the rest of the Women Airforce Service Pilots were finally recognized."