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The American Experience
Suggestions for the Classroom

Themes: women in the military, aviation, World War II, U.S. military history

    teachers image During WWII, more than a thousand women signed up to fly with the US military. Wives, mothers, actresses and debutantes who joined the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPS) test-piloted aircraft, ferried planes and logged 60 million miles in the air. Thirty eight women died in service. But the opportunity to play a critical role in the war effort was abruptly canceled by politics and resentment, and it would be thirty years before women would again break the sex barrier in the skies.

Before Watching

  1. Ask students what role they think women played in World War II. Where did students learn their information?

After Watching

  1. What were students' reactions to finding out that women worked as pilots during World War II? Why do they think the WASPs were not granted official military status?

  2. Assign students to research different roles women have played in the military and during wartime. Subjects could include following women's struggles to get accepted into military academies; looking at other ways women were involved during the two world wars, like by working for defense contractors, providing medical support, taking part in intelligence operations, etc.; comparing the roles women played during World War I or II and during one of our more recent military actions like the Gulf War. How have women's roles changed over time?

  3. Have students take on the role of a WASP recruit and write letters home or journal entries. In addition to the information they get from watching the film, you may also want to direct them to the Enhanced Transcript for extended interviews with former WASPs as well as to the Primary Sources included on the Web site.

  4. For a look at the experiences of another female aviation pioneer, have students read "West with the Night" by Beryl Markham about her adventures as an African bush pilot in 1930s Kenya and as the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west. They may also want to do further research on other early women aviators like Bessie Coleman, Amy Johnson, and Harriet Quimby.