Streeter, Ruth Cheney (1895–1990)

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Streeter, Ruth Cheney (1895–1990)

First head of the Women's Reserve of the Marine Corps. Born on October 2, 1895, in Brookline, Massachusetts; died in September 1990 in Morristown, New Jersey; daughter of Charles Paine Cheney and Mary Ward (Lyon) Cheney Schofield; attended Bryn Mawr College, 1914–1916; married Thomas Winthrop Streeter (a lawyer, banker, and utility executive), in 1917; children: Frank Sherwin; Henry Schofield; Thomas Winthrop, Jr.; Lilian Carpenter.

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1895, Ruth Cheney Streeter received her early education in Boston, and spent two years at Bryn Mawr College before leaving to marry Thomas Winthrop Streeter in 1917. The couple moved to Morristown, New Jersey, where she became active in community work while also raising four children. A member of some six women's clubs and the Junior League, Streeter volunteered as a health and welfare worker for several statewide relief commissions as well. Annually, she and her mother Mary Cheney Schofield (who had remarried after the death of Streeter's father) presented the Cheney Award to a member of the Army Air Corps for "acts of valor or extreme fortitude or sacrifice," in memory of her brother William Halsall Cheney, a pilot who had died in an air collision over Italy during World War I.

Streeter took this connection to aviation a step further in 1940, as World War II raged in Europe, when she began taking flying lessons. By the time she earned her commercial license two years later, the United States had joined the Allies in the war, and she used her flying skills in the service of the Civil Air Patrol. She also participated on national defense committees and in civilian assistance to the soldiers stationed at nearby Fort Dix.

In 1943, Congress approved the creation of a Women's Reserve (WR) of the Marine Corps in order to free up active male Marines for combat duty. Commissioned a major, Streeter was named the director of the WR, overseeing some 1,000 officers and 18,000 enlisted women by 1944. While members were not permitted to serve outside the United States, and married women who had children younger than 18 were not allowed to join, they were paid the same as male soldiers in their ranks, and enlisted women had the opportunity for promotion to commission as officers. WR members were chiefly called on to serve in the capacity of accountants, draftsmen, electricians, and office workers, performing clerical duties, communications, aviation support, cryptography, and machine assembly and repair. Although Streeter did not achieve her hope of serving "where there was the most action," remaining instead within the U.S. throughout the war, she reached the rank of colonel by the time it ended in 1945.

When Streeter retired at the end of that year, she returned to the home she shared with her husband in Morristown. There she renewed her civic activities, among them service as national president of the Society of Colonial Dames (1948–52) and membership in the New Jersey Historical Sites Council (1968–70). She died in 1990.


Block, Maxine, ed. Current Biography 1943. NY: H.W. Wilson, 1943.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Helga P. McCue , freelance writer, Waterford, Connecticut