Waddy, Harriet (1904–1999)

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Waddy, Harriet (1904–1999)

One of the highest-ranking African-American officers in World War II . Name variations: Harriet West; Harriet West Waddy. Born Harriet West on June 4, 1904; died on February 21, 1999, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Harriet Waddy, born Harriet West, stepped into the limelight in April 1943, when she made a radio broadcast on behalf of the Army to urge black women to join the armed forces. First Officer West—as Waddy was then known—told black Americans that joining a segregated military that did "not represent an ideal of democracy" should not be considered "a retreat from our fight," but rather "our contribution to its realization."

Waddy was to become one of the highest-ranking black officers in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) during World War II and its wartime adviser on racial issues. Created in 1942 as the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps, the WAC attracted 6,500 black women into the service. Unfortunately, the military's policy of segregation forced many of these enlistees into service as uniformed domestic servants, assigned to cleaning officers' clubs. Waddy lobbied to change this state of affairs after she was promoted to major and named an aide to the WAC director, Colonel Oveta Culp Hobby .

Waddy's experiences during the war included traveling to the South to hear the grievances of black WACs, and fighting racially insulting Army decrees; she recommended, for example, that official memoranda not differentiate between "white and colored personnel." Major West and Major Charity Adams, who commanded the only unit of black WACs sent overseas in World War II, were the only two black women to attain the rank of major in the wartime WAC. In old age, Charity Adams Earley recalled Harriet Waddy as a "charming" woman who was "well-disciplined, as we were all trained to be." Waddy died in Las Vegas in 1999, at the age of 94.


Obituary. The Day [New London, CT]. March 8, 1999.

Paula Morris , D.Phil., Brooklyn, New York

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Waddy, Harriet (1904–1999)

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