Martha S. Putney, black historian and author, dies at 92

Historians in the News

Martha S. Putney, a retired historian at Bowie State and Howard universities and the author of a book about African American women who served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II, died Dec. 11 of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease at a hospice in Washington, D.C. She was 92.

Putney's book "When the Nation Was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps During World War II" (1992) was a reflection of her own experience.

Putney, one of eight children of Oliver and Ida Settle in Norristown, Pa., was born Nov. 9, 1916. She won a scholarship to Howard University, where she received her undergraduate degree in 1939 and her master's degree in history in 1940. Unable to find a teaching position, she took a job as a statistical clerk with the War Manpower Commission.

She hated the drudgery and the institutional racism she experienced, so in 1943 she applied to join the WAC, then less than a year old. She was one of 40 black women who were selected after being personally approved by Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the National Council of Negro Women and friend of Eleanor Roosevelt.

The Army assigned Putney to its basic training center at Ft. Des Moines, Iowa, where she trained female recruits. Later, she commanded a unit of black medical technicians at Gardiner General Hospital in Chicago.

"I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. But once I got out, I was glad it was over," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1998. "A lot of women were sent to the South and had terrible times."...

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