On July 8, 1948, Esther Blake Became the First Female member accepted into the United States Air Force. She enlisted on the first minute of the first hour of the first day regular U.S. Air Force duty was authorized for women. Considered the “First Woman in the Air Force,” she paved the way for the 63,672 women who serve on active duty in the U.S. Air Force. Seventy years later, women comprise about 20 percent of the United States Air Force.
On June 12, 1948, President Truman signed the Women’s Armed Services Integration Act into law. All women were allowed to enlist directly in the military with the law’s passage. Within a month, the United States Air Force established the Women in Air Force, known as the WAF, as a separate organization to oversee the training and administration of female enlistees.
When Blake became the first woman to enlist in the WAF, she had already served in the military for four years. In March 1944, she enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps after the War Department had notified her that her eldest son, a B-17 pilot in England, had been shot down over Belgium and went missing. Her younger son, who was also fighter pilot during World War II, later revealed that his mother joined the Women’s Army Corps to end the war sooner. She figured that by taking a clerical job, she could free up another soldier to fight in the war. When the war ended, both of her sons returned home safely, but Blake reenlisted in the Army in July 1947.
One year later, she became the first of eleven women to join the WAF. At the time, Congress limited the number of women in the Air Force to 300 officers and 4,000 enlisted members. Additionally, most females were relegated to clerical or medical positions. Staff Sgt. Blake remained on active duty until 1954. She passed away on October 17, 1979, three years after the first female cadets were admitted into the United States Air Force Academy.
In 1987, a U.S. Air Force student dormitory at The Air University was dedicated to honor Staff Sgt. Blake. Chief Master Sgt. Timothy Horn praised Blake by saying, “Her success opened the doors to allow future women the opportunity to serve with pride. Our Air Force is emphatically better for her efforts.”