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“I never knew I was a pioneer”
A coin is wrapped securely in a wire and is hanging on a necklace. She is a memory of 99 year old Bea McPherson for her role as one of the 224 Military Mapping Maidens during World War II. McPherson originally attended Kent State University to become a teacher. He studied elementary education with a minor in geography. But when the war broke out, her career changed course. The Army Map Service, which had lost much of its mostly male workforce to the armed forces, designed a college course to train civilian women in military cartography and offered an opening for McPherson. While she wanted to help the war effort, her mother, a widow and parents of nine children – four of whom had already served in the war – wanted her to stay home. CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE ACCUWEATHER APP “I made a decision to join the war effort as a civilian,” McPherson told AccuWeather National Reporter Emmy Victor. Upon graduation, she and 15 other women from Kent State University joined about 200 women, informally referred to as Military Mapping Maidens, who were employed by the Army Map Service as cartographers. A Kent State student, Bea Shaheen poses in a tree in front of Rockwell Hall. (Kent State University) The building where she worked was carefully painted and trees and bushes grew on the roof. There were no windows and the steps were made of wood – anything to disguise it from the air and make it almost invisible to possible air raids. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., McPherson and her staff helped draw maps of Italy, Germany, and other locations, using photos to mark houses, churches, lakes, streams, and mountains. Maps for historic battles like D-Day in Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge required overtime. Professor Edna Eisen and the students Wanda Baynes, Eleanor Trapp, Betty Reider and Marian Porter. (Kent State University) When men left their jobs to join the armed forces, their absence created a vacuum in the workforce that women flocked to to fill multiple agencies, even with the predecessor of the National Weather Service. At the time of Pearl Harbor, only two women were working observing weather forecasters, said Greg Romano, director of the NWS Heritage Program and senior advisor to the NWS chief of staff. “This should give you an idea of how widespread the male approach to science was at the time,” Romano said in an interview with AccuWeather. The NWS Heritage Program documents the agency’s history and the growth of its staff after keeping some first person accounts from women who worked in the office during World War II. In 1942, the Meteorological Bureau issued an announcement accepting women into the agency as men were being recruited into the armed forces. (National Weather Service Heritage) The Meteorological Service issued an announcement in 1942 calling on qualified women to apply for jobs in the agency during the course of the war. The jobs they were hired for were primarily office workers, but the work would also overlap with meteorology. “In terms of meteorology, they were involved in taking our observations, drawing maps and chats, and speaking to pilots about flight plans and weather concerns,” Romano said. He added that much of the reason for the increasing role of the weather bureau and meteorology in general at the time was to aid air and aviation operations, which resulted in meteorological support work for these women. “They weren’t exactly meteorologists in general, but they used math and science skills that many of them had before they started working for the weather bureau,” Romano said. “They used STEM before STEM was a thing.” While World War II is widely seen as the impetus for the induction of more women into jobs and roles normally held by men, many of these women did not see themselves as pioneers at the time. Although many were well qualified for the jobs, the job had only opened up in the absence of men and many were laid off after the war when men returned or later due to downsizing. “Let’s also see that there was still a lot of resistance,” said Romano. While the reports of several women who had worked for the weather bureau at the time reported high morale and greetings in the office, they also found that they were received with reluctance and skepticism by their mostly male staff. “I felt that the seasoned male observers had some reservations about my abilities, but they were cooperative,” wrote Grace D. Harding, who worked at the Bethel, Alaska Observatory. Charlotte Schmidtke Jones, who worked in offices in Washington state and Oregon, noted that while there was a two-way support system between employees, most men greeted the women on the staff: “There were, of course, some (few) who could Can’t wait to see us leave. ”However, due to the number of women hired, there was“ very little (if any) overturning, talebearing, or mouth buzzing from anyone ”. Mary JH Williams noted that at her first stop in Reno, Nevada, she was received with “a little restraint and a lot of skepticism”. Her duties included pilot balloon observations (PIBAL), map acquisition, equipment maintenance, climatology reporting, teletype usage and radiosonde observations (RAOB), as well as adiabatic maps, which record weather observations at different heights in the atmosphere, including those observed by radiosonde equipment on weather balloons. Dorothy Hurd Chambers made observations for the Meteorological Bureau at Denver Stapleton International Airport, sending ceiling and radiosonde balloons every six hours, making observations and telexing encrypted messages. Although she wrote that there was no discrimination she faced, she noted “scary times” when communicating with staff at the airport. Dorothy Chambers (left) and another member of the Meteorological Office draw weather maps from teletype reports. (Kent State University) “There were no lows, but some scary times when we observers had to tell the tower that they needed to move planes to another location or go to instrument landing when the ceiling or visibility was low,” wrote Chambers. “The Tower men didn’t like us ‘young girls’ telling them what to do. But we didn’t have any crashes in Denver anyway.” The resistance persisted even after the war. “While World War II and the women who worked in the Meteorological Office during World War II certainly opened many doors, there were still many forces trying to exclude women,” said Romano. He reported that he had looked through the meteorological bureau’s themed articles and found that women were not specifically mentioned until the early 1970s. However, World War II had allowed women to get their foot in the door. “I think if you spoke to many women who are currently working in the weather department or in meteorology in general, many would thank these women as pioneers who opened these doors to do this today,” Romano said. “Still, I don’t think any of these women thought they were pioneers based on what they wrote.” Chambers, one of the many women whose legacy is engraved on the National Weather Service records, at least knew she was making history. “We girls have shown the world that ‘men’s work’ can also be women’s work,” she wrote. “It has always been a great satisfaction to have the privilege of being part of aviation history.” Robert Cardillo, director of the NGA, presents the cartographers Dina (Morelli) Kennedy and Bea McPherson with a plaque commemorating the admission of the Military Mapping Maidens to the Geospatial Intelligence Hall of Fame. This souvenir photo contains an inscription from the director who wrote: “Congratulations, Bea-you rightly stole the show!” (Kent State) It would be about 70 years after the war for McPherson to see recognition for her work during World War II. “I never knew I was a pioneer,” she said. “I only knew it after 73 years.” McPherson has recently received many awards for her service, including an NGA coin presented to her in 2014 by Letitia Long, then director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency and the first woman to head the agency. In 2016 she was inducted into the NGA Hall of Fame and addressed the guests as a representative of the 224 Military Mapping Maidens when they presented her with a framed award declaring her a pioneer. At the end of her speech, she was surprised by a standing ovation. Additional reporting from Emmy Victor. 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