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The Wasps

The Wasps

The Wasps is a play written by the lone representative of Ancient Greece's Old Attic Comedy, Aristophanes (c. Written in two acts, the play focuses on a reoccurring theme, the tension between the old and new.

The first act revolves around the young Athenian Bdelycleon (Cleon-hater) and his old-fashioned father Philocleon (Cleon-lover). Bdelycleon endeavors to prevent the father from participating in the city's jury system; a system he believes is controlled by the unscrupulous pro-war Athenian leadership, namely Cleon. The son barricades his father in the house, stationing two slaves outside to prevent his escape. Late, one night, dressed as wasps and denouncing the son as pro-Spartan, a chorus of old men arrives at their house and endeavors to help Philocleon escape and perform what they consider to be their civic duty. Finally, the son cures his father of his passion for the law court by staging a mock trial of their own at home, trying a dog for the theft of a piece of cheese.

The Wasps takes a subtle look at one of Aristophanes' preferred targets: the Athenian legal system.

In the second act, the young sophisticated Bdelycleon struggles to teach his father how to act more refined in society, demonstrating how to lie properly on a couch, dress, and use good table manners. Unfortunately, the father is incapable of reform, and the son fails miserably. After a long and troublesome evening, the old man is issued a court summons for his violent conduct during and after a party. The son finally learns that changing his father is hopeless.


Little is known of Aristophanes' early life; even his birth date is questioned. Although his family owned land on the island of Aegina, Aristophanes was a native of Athens, the son of Philippus. He had two sons of whom Aroses was a minor playwright. In David Barrett's translation Aristophanes: Frogs and Other Plays, the playwright was touted as one of the greatest examples of the grace, charm, and scope of Athenian Greece. Editor Moses Hadas in his Greek Drama said he could write delicate and refined poetry but could also demonstrate bawdiness and gaiety. His comedy was seen as a masterful blend of risqué wit and invention. However, to others, he brought Greek tragedy down from the high levels of Aeschylus with his use of parody, satire, and vulgarity.

As the other 5th-century BCE playwrights, he dealt with many contemporary issues. Many of his plays were written during the long war between Athens and Sparta and contain not-so-subtle attacks on the Athenian leadership. As evident in many of his comedies, Aristophanes was an ardent opponent of the war, and the pro-war advocate and statesman Cleon became an easy target for his ire. The playwright had been taken to court for his verbal attacks on Cleon in the play The Babylonians. Although Pericles attempted to ban comic criticism of people like Cleon, it had little success and was soon rescinded. Often criticized for their crude humor and suggestive tone, Aristophanes plays were popular among the Athenian audiences. His preferred targets were politicians, philosophers (Socrates was a favorite), poets, scientists, and even musicians. Unfortunately, only eleven of his 40 plays have survived. The Wasps takes a subtle look at one of these targets: the Athenian legal system.


The cast of characters includes:

  • Xanthias
  • Sosias
  • Bdelycleon
  • Philocleon
  • Labes
  • The Dog
  • a reveler
  • a baking woman
  • a citizen
  • several silent characters
  • and, of course, the chorus

The Plot

Act One

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Late one evening, two slaves, Xanthias and Sosias, sit outside the home of the young Athenian Bdelycleon and his father Philocleon. There are barricades in the front of the house and across the windows; huge netting covers the entire house. Xanthias addresses the audience informing them of the circumstances behind their nighttime vigil:

The big man asleep up there on the roof, he's our master. He's ordered us to stand guard over his father and keep him locked inside, so that he can't escape. You see, the old man's suffering from a very peculiar disease. [...] He yearns to sit in judgment and pines if he's denied a front row seat. (Barrett, 11-12)

Despite a number of efforts, Bdelycleon has been unable to convince his father otherwise. In the background one hears the father yelling to let him out, claiming the oracle at Delphi has told him if he ever acquitted a man he would wither away. The old man even attempts to ride out on the underside of the family's donkey, claiming he intended on going to the market.

In the distance, they hear a loud buzzing: the father's fellow jurors, all veterans like the Philocleon and dressed as wasps, complete with stingers. They are coming to escort the old man to court. They call for Philocleon to come out and join them. He shouts from inside the house that his son would not let him. An argument between Bdelycleon and the chorus (wasp) leader ensues. Bdelycleon warns Xanthias not to provoke the old jurors. Philocleon declares:

He won't allow me to go to court; he won't let me do harm to anybody. He wants to give me the easy life. (20)

The chorus leader is appalled and exclaims that this was a threat to democracy, adding that the son is both a traitor and conspirator. As Philocleon makes several more futile attempts to escape, the wasp leader reassures him:

We'll make him run for his life. That'll teach him to disrespect the ballot box. (21)

The frustrated Bdelycleon begs the chorus to stop the incessant buzzing and listen, but the chorus of old men ignore him and turn around like angry wasps: “Wasps! About turn! Present stings!” (23) As the wasps charge, Philocleon makes a quick dash for freedom but is grabbed by two slaves. Bdelycleon runs from the house carrying torches; the chorus retreats. Finally, Bdelycleon asks to negotiate and come to an agreement. The chorus leader is reluctant:

Arrangement? With you! You enemy of the people! You monarchist! You long-haired Amynias! You tassel-fringed pro-Spartan, in cahoots with Brasidas [Spartan general]. (25)

Bdelycleon turns to his father and pleads with him to listen to what he has to say: "…you don't realize how you're being taken in by these men you almost worship. You're a slave without realizing it" (26). He even calls his father a lackey, asking him what he could possibly get out of jury duty. Finally, an arrangement is reached; the father and son will each state his case before the chorus.

The father goes first and pleads his case. He reveals how defendants bow to him and beg him to have mercy. He adds that the best thing about being a juror is the pay. The chorus applauds his “sensible speech” and “splendid performance” (31) Now, the son takes his turn, knowing he must prove to his father that he is nothing more than a slave. The first question the father is asked: where does the money from tribute as well taxes, the mines, markets, and harbor fees go. And, how much of that money goes to the juror? Philocleon calculates that it is only ten percent. Bdelycleon continues:

Well, isn't it slavery when these men, and their cronies, all hold overpaid executive posts, while you're over the moon with your three obols? (33)

Bdelycleon continues. The government gets all the money, giving him only a pittance. The government wants to keep him poor. He is left to chew on leftovers, receiving little from the country he fought for. When the father finally concedes, his son offers a sensible solution: if he likes trying cases why not do it at home. Although confused, the father consents and a makeshift court is immediately set up outside the home.

The first case to come before Philocleon is against their family dog, Labes, who is accused of stealing a piece of Sicilian cheese. Their other dog - simply called The Dog - expressed a desire to open for the prosecution. The two dogs are brought before the father, escorted by two slaves. The case was initiated by The Dog “on the grounds that the said Labes did willfully and feloniously wrong and injure one Sicilian cheese by eating it all himself” (41). The plaintiff, The Dog (a nickname for Cleon who was called the watchdog of Athens), speaks out against Labes:

He must be punished for this. There's no room for two thieves in one patch. I don't see why I should go to barking in vain. (43)

While Labes does not speak on his behalf, Bdelycleon does, claiming Labes is a good watchdog and a noble creature. He begs Philocleon to have mercy; the dog works tirelessly while The Dog (Cleon) stays at home but demands his fair share. Bdelycleon rests his case, asking for an acquittal. The old man is beside himself, so his son helps by leading him to the urns where Philocleon drops in his voting pebble; it was for acquittal. He had been tricked, allowing a guilty man to escape. Believing now that his life was over, the son promises to show him a new life: a life of dinners and parties.

Act Two

Two couches are brought outside the house. Father and son enter. After a long struggle, Bdelycleon finally removes the old tattered cloak of his father and replaces with it with a Persian gown. His old felt shoes are exchanged for Spartans with leather straps. Next, the old man is asked to walk with “an elegant, affluent swagger” (51). Painfully, Bdelycleon attempts to teach his father how to act in a social setting – even how to sit properly on a couch. The son is also concerned with conversation that may occur at a party. He tells his father to say something impressive. They even discuss the songs the father is permitted to sing, avoiding anything that might anger Cleon who is expected to be at the party. Before they leave for the dinner at the home of Philoctemon, the father expresses his reluctance to drink; he knows what that it leads to “breaches of the peace, assault and battery - and a big fine while you've still got a hangover” (57).

The party was a disaster. Beaten black and blue, Xanthias speaks to the chorus:

The old man's been making a terrible nuisance of himself: he's drunker than any of them. And, that's saying something, considering who the others are. (59)

He told crude stories and insulted everyone there. As he left the party, Philocleon abducted the flute girl. As he heads home, a large crowd of people follows him, many of them with a complaint. A concerned Bdelycleon tries to tell his father that the abduction is a criminal offense. One “reveler” stops the old man:

You'll pay for these youthful pranks tomorrow. We'll all be around in the morning, and you'll answer to this in court. (66)

An old baking woman interrupts. Holding an empty tray, she claims she is owed ten obols for the loss of her loaves and promises to see him in Market Court. A citizen with a bandaged head threatens with a lawsuit for assault and battery. Unable to get the father away from the crowd, Bdelycleon finally carries him into the house, but the old man still wants to party. He is soon joined by a second dancer dressed as a crab. They party into the night.


Although Aristophanes' plays were often criticized for their bawdy and risqué nature, the Athenian audiences loved them. Like many fellow tragedians, he used his plays to voice social and political commentary. Throughout much of his life, the war between Sparta and Athens was waging, often at the city's doorstep. Political, pro-war leaders such as Cleon angered Aristophanes, and he used his plays to voice his concern, even finding himself in court. As with Lysistrata, the playwright finds himself at odds against the government of the city he loved. In The Wasps, his target is not only Cleon but the city's jury system. Although democratic in appearance, the system was easily manipulated by the unscrupulous.

The main character of the play, Philocleon truly believes he is providing a valuable service, well-respected by both citizenry and leadership. It is not until his son, Bdelycleon explains how he is being manipulated that the old man changes his mind. Again, as with other plays, Cleon appears as a minor character, The Dog. His testimony against Labes shows how Labes does most of the work while he sits back and wants his share of the profits, namely a piece of the cheese. In the second act of the play - called a “comedy of manners “ (Barrett, 4) - the son attempts (and fails) to change his father's old-fashioned behavior; the often-seen conflict of the old versus the new. While entertaining, the play provided the conservative playwright with an avenue for his anti-war beliefs and distrust of the city's leadership.

The Wasps – Aristophanes | Play Summary & Analysis | Ancient Greece – Classical Literature

The Wasps“ (Gr: Sphekes“) is a comedy by the ancient greek playwright Aristophanes, first staged at the Lenaia festival of 422 BCE. It is considered by some to be one of the world’s great comedies, and perhaps exemplifies the conventions of Old Comedy better than any other play. It pokes satirical fun at the Athenian demagogue Cleon and his power-base, the law courts, in a story about the old juror Philocleon who is addicted to his jury work and his son Bdelycleon’s ill-fated attempts to reform him.

American Experience

More than thirty years after the WASPs were disbanded in December 1944, the women pilots of World War II were shocked by a series of headlines in the paper. The U.S. Air Force announced that women were going to be allowed to serve as military pilots for the first time. WASPs from all over the country were incensed that their service to the country had been totally overlooked. "When the Air Force Academy decided they were going to take women, and they made the announcement that for the first time in history women were going to fly military aircraft, it really set a bomb under all of us," one WASP later recalled. "I thought: 'Come on, after all we put into that program."

Much had changed in America since a powerful male pilots lobby shut down the WASP at the end of 1944. In the final months of its existence, the program was under constant attack in the media. "NOT CREATED BY CONGRESS" declared one headline. One writer quoted an unnamed source who predicted the imminent demise of the organization. "We'll wake up one of these mornings," the informant allegedly said, "to discover there are no more WASPS to sting the taxpayers and keep thoroughly experienced men out of flying jobs." By contrast, reporters in 1977 were moved and intrigued by the women who had flown military planes during the Second World War.

In the 1940s the media saw no justification in the women's demands for military benefits. By 1977, reporters felt the lack of benefits was an injustice. One writer explained to readers that when a young female pilot died flying military planes, not only was her funeral not paid for by the U.S. government, her friends on base often had to pass a hat to pay to ship her body home.

In 1976 the WASPs found a powerful champion on Capitol Hill in former World War II pilot Senator Barry Goldwater. His first attempt to have the status of the WASPs officially changed to that of World War II veterans came in an amendment to an obscure bill that had already passed the House. The House voted against Goldwater's amendment. But the Senator from Arizona was not deterred. The following year he presented a WASP bill to the Senate that called for military recognition of the WASPs. In his presentation he threatened to attach a WASP amendment to every piece of legislation that he introduced into the upper chamber if opponents in the Senate continued to block the WASP bill.

The WASPs themselves were able to whip up much public and congressional support. Now that several decades had passed since the end of the war, the women were free to discuss publicly what had at the time been classified missions. They talked about their flights and the risks they had taken, and they got members of the public to sign petitions. One WASP discovered an especially good spot for collecting signatures: the lines outside movie theaters for that year's blockbuster movie, Star Wars.

The WASPs did meet powerful opposition from several quarters, including President Jimmy Carter, the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Veterans Administration. The latter in particular argued that if the WASPs were granted veteran benefits, then other civilian organizations that had supported the war effort -- the Civil Air Patrol for example -- would also begin to lobby for military recognition. In testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the son of World War II General Hap Arnold outlined clearly why the WASPs were essentially not a civilian unit. Both Colonel Bruce Arnold and WASP veterans described the military training, the top secret missions, the drills, the uniforms and side arms that made the WASP a military rather than a civilian organization.

The WASPs hoped to prove both that the Army had intended to officially militarize them and that in many ways they were a de facto part of the military before the end of the war. In his testimony before a House committee, Colonel Arnold outlined what he called his father's intentions to militarize the WASPs. He concluded his remarks with an impassioned plea: ". Who is more deserving, a young girl, flying on written official military orders who is shot down and killed by our own anti-aircraft artillery while carrying out those orders, or a young finance clerk with an eight to five job in a Denver office. We hope that this committee will remember that the WASP too have borne the battle, a battle that left 79 of them killed or injured. Not to care for them also makes a mockery of the motto of the Veterans Administration as well as the whole Veterans Administration system in our country."

A former WASP commanding officer, Byrd Howell Granger, compiled a dossier of more than 100 pages of documents showing that the WASPs were subject to military discipline, that they were assigned to top secret missions, and that many of them received service ribbons after their units were disbanded. One document more than any other was especially persuasive. It was an Honorable Discharge certificate granted to WASP Helen Porter by her commanding officer at Strother Field in Kansas. It read: "This is to certify that Helen Porter honorably served in active Federal Service in the Army of the United States."

In the fall of 1977, both the House and the Senate voted to grant the WASPs military status and to make the women pilots eligible for veterans benefits. For many of the WASPs, the victory meant more than financial support from the government. It was an acknowledgment of their service and accomplishments during the war. One veteran said, "We were finally recognized for what we had done thirty years before." Another added that the measure "gave the families of the girls that were killed a feeling that they died for their country." The victory also meant that a few days after Congress' decision, Colonel Arnold could triumphantly tell a WASP that she could and should put the Stars and Stripes on the grave of a WASP colleague to commemorate Veterans Day.


You don't need legislation to prove something. you can be whatever you set your heart and head to be, and don't let anybody tell you can't be, because 1078 women pilots did it in World War II.

–Annelle Henderson Bulechek, WASP 44-W-2


In 1942, as the country reeled from the attack on Pearl Harbor, trained male pilots were in short supply. Qualified pilots were needed to fight the war. The Army also was desperate for pilots to deliver newly built trainer aircraft to the flight schools in the South. Twenty-eight experienced civilian women pilots volunteered to take those ferrying jobs. They formed the country’s first female squadron late summer 1942.

Between November 1942 and December 1944, 1,074 more women were trained to fly first in Houston and then moved to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, TX. Nancy Love and Jacqueline Cochran founded the two programs (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron and Women’s Flying Training Detachment) that became the WASP.

WASP flew every aircraft in the Army’s arsenal. In addition to ferrying, they towed gunnery targets, transported equipment and non-flying personnel, and flight-tested aircraft that had been repaired before the men were allowed to fly them again. For over two years, the WASP went on to perform a wide variety of aviation-related jobs and to serve at more than 120 bases around the country.

The man who championed the WASP was Army Air Forces Commanding General “Hap” Arnold. He was revered by the U.S. Congress, but in June 1944 when he sought to officially designate the WASP as members of the United States military, Congress said “no.” After a protracted fight, the WASP were granted military status in 1977, thanks to a law signed by President Carter. These 1,102 Women Airforce Service Pilots flew wingtip to wingtip with their male counterparts and were just as vital to the war effort.

Sarah Byrn Rickman, WASP author and historian

History of the National WASP WWII Museum

The National WASP WWII Museum began in 2002 with the vision of two women, WASP Deanie Bishop Parrish and her daughter, Nancy Parrish. They believed the history of the Women Airforce Service Pilots should be showcased at Avenger Field on the grounds where most of the WASP trained during World War II.

Plans to transform this vision into reality began in the fall of 2002 with a presentation to Sweetwater community leaders. On December 9th of that year, a steering committee met for the first time to investigate the Museum’s feasibility. Incorporation documents were presented to the steering committee in January 2003, and the Museum was incorporated in the State of Texas in July 2003. The Sweetwater Chamber of Commerce supported the Museum both financially and with key leadership. In September 2003, the Museum Board of Directors leased 55 acres of land at Avenger Field from the City of Sweetwater. The two hundred-year lease included the land as well as a hangar that had been built in 1929 to serve as the first Sweetwater Municipal Airport.

With incorporation papers in hand and a site settled upon, construction of the Museum began. In 2004 the Board of Directors recruited new members to support the Museum, developed a master plan around architectural drawings, mailed the first official newsletters, and continued to seek funds to build a nationally recognized memorial to the WASP. Renovations to the hangar began in early 2005 culminating in the first National WASP WWII Museum Fly-In. Local, state, and national volunteers worked long hours in order to open the Museum in May 2005. The outside of the hangar was painted, and the inside of the hangar was fully renovated to house the exhibits. In celebration of much hard work, a grand opening was held on May 28, the same day the first class of WASP graduated 62 years earlier.

In 2006 the Museum grew with new members and monetary donations as well as donations of historical artifacts and new exhibits. The first Homecoming at Hangar One, now held annually, was held on Memorial Day weekend. The highlight of the first Homecoming was the opening of the exhibit depicting a bay, the living quarters of the WASP while they were in training.

As membership and interest in the Museum grew, directors hired an executive director in 2007. In 2008 the Museum began to register the extensive collection, to find new marketing and fundraising avenues, to increase membership, and to build new exhibits.

As a continually evolving project, the Museum has grown each year: 2009 saw the addition of a PT-19 display and 2010 improvements included an exhibit featuring Jacqueline Cochran memorabilia. The Congressional Gold Medal presentation to the WASP in March 2010 provided greater national awareness and increased excitement about the story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II. In 2012, the Museum acquired the Stearman followed by the BT-13 in 2017. In 2020, the Museum added the UC-78 Bobcat to its collection, making it the fourth out of the five original WASP training aircraft.

An increasingly diverse Board of Directors and Advisors with members from across the nation enables the Museum to continue moving toward achieving its goals.

The Amazing Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War Two

The Women Airforce Service Pilots (or WASP) of World War Two played a great role in the American war effort. Here, Mac Guffey tells us about their story – and fight for recognition both during and after the war.

You can also read Mac’s past articles: A Brief History of Impeachment in the US ( here ) and on Franksgiving ( here ) .

WASP pilots (from left) Frances Green, Margaret Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn leave their B-17 trainer, (christened ‘Pistol Packin’ Mama’), during ferry training at Lockbourne Army Air Force base in Ohio. They’re carrying their parachutes.

Two years before America entered the Second World War, a pioneering group of more than a thousand, relatively unknown, veteran pilots stepped forward and volunteered to be a part of the solution for what they could see as a looming manpower problem in the air-arm of the U.S. military.

“…at the height of World War II, [they] left homes and jobs for the opportunity of a lifetime – to become the first in history to fly for the U.S. military…these women became the Women Airforce Service Pilots – better known as the WASP.” [1]

This is the story of that long unrecognized and underappreciated group of determined pilots and their uphill struggles to be accepted as the soldiers they were. And it all began with a letter – woman-to-woman – because Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran recognized a kindred soul in Eleanor Roosevelt – the First Lady.

It was 1939, and WWII had just exploded across Poland.

Realizing America’s eventual involvement, the country’s most famous female pilot wrote a letter to the most progressive First Lady in American history with a startling suggestion – use women pilots in non-combat roles to compensate for the coming manpower demands of the military. [2]

Recognizing the wisdom and prescience in Cochran’s proposal, Eleanor Roosevelt introduced her to General Henry “Hap” Arnold, head of the U.S. Army Air Force. Cochran’s plan, however, was initially rejected. Arnold expressed the misbegotten sentiments of most Americans – especially men – when he said in 1941 that “the use of women pilots serves no military purpose in a country which has adequate manpower at this time.” [3]

But the manpower necessary to fight this coming world-wide war was far greater than Arnold (or anyone else for that matter) ever expected, and by September 1942, Nancy Harkness Love and Cochran, with Arnold’s support, independently founded two separate flying programs (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadronand Women’s Flying Training Detachment). On August 5, 1943, these were merged to become the WASP – Women’s Airforce Service Pilots - a civilian squadron under the aegis of the U.S. Army Air Force. And it was composed of only women pilots. Cochran was chosen to serve as the director of WASP and its training division, while Love was appointed director of the ferrying division. [2]

Jackie Cochran surrounded by WASP trainees.


The military trained male civilians with no flying experience to be pilots for jobs ferrying aircraft from the factory to various military airfields all over the U.S. and even abroad. But Cochran and Love knew the bar for women pilots – even “civilian” women pilots – had to be a higher one.

The qualifications Cochran and Love set for a woman just to be an applicant for the WASP were stringent: Potential recruits had to be between 21 and 35 years old, in good health, already possess a pilot’s license, and 200 hours of prior flight experience!

In the sixteen months that the WASP squadron existed, more than 25,000 women applied for training. Only 1,830 of them (spread over eighteen training classes), were accepted as candidates. In the end, 1,074 of those candidates successfully completed the grueling four-month (Army way) training program at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.

Despite their advanced experience as pilots, WASP recruits were required to complete the same primary, basic, and advanced training courses as the inexperienced male Army Air Corps pilots. In addition to learning the superfluous - like marching and close order drill - they also spent roughly twelve hours a day at the airfield. Half the day was spent doing stalls, spins, turns, take offs, and landings – and all of it in very crowded airspace. The other half of the day was spent in what they called “ground school.”

By graduation, all WASP had 560 hours of ground school and 210 hours of flight training (in addition to the 200 hours required for them just to apply). They also knew Morse code, meteorology, military law, physics, aircraft mechanics, and navigation (and, of course, how to march).

Their previous level of flying experience allowed a large number of these pilots finished their WASP training with such stellar marks that they qualified to go on for specialized flight training. Many of them, by the end of their time as WASP, had flown every single plane in the American arsenal – including jets!

Despite the stiff entrance requirements and all of the additional training these female pilots endured, the WASP were still considered just “civil service employees”. Cochran, director of the WASP, and General Henry “Hap” Arnold, who was now the head of the U.S. Army Transport Command, pressed for full militarization of these female pilots, and for the WASP to be commissioned directly as service pilots, a procedure the Air Transport Command used routinely with male civilian pilots. But because of the considerable opposition to the program, both in Congress and in the press, Cochran’s and Arnold’s requests were denied. [5]


As a WASP, Betty Archibald Fernandes’s primary job was to pick up a plane at the factory where it was built and fly it to the east coast so it could be shipped abroad. During her wartime service, Fernandes flew 30 different kinds of military planes, including fighters, bombers, transport, and training aircraft. But her number one love was fighters. “I flew every kind of fighter plane, including P-30s, 51’s, 39’s, 63’s, 47’s and 40’s,” Fernandes proudly boasted. [6]

In addition to ferrying aircraft and cargo from factories to stateside military bases and transporting military cargo all over the country, WASP also trained male bombardiers and provided instrument training to male cadets they participated in simulations to help train radar and searchlight trackers, and they even towed targets for live anti-aircraft gunnery practice. [4]

The WASP were even used as motivators.

“When men were less willing to fly certain difficult planes, such as the YP-59 and B-29 Super Fortress, General Arnold recruited two WASP, Dorthea Johnson and Dora Dougherty Strother, to fly these aircraft. Arnold believed that if men saw women fly these planes successfully, they would be “embarrassed” into taking these missions willingly. Johnson and Strother flew to Alamogordo, New Mexico in the B-29s. There was a crowd waiting to see them land. General Arnold’s plan worked, “From that day on, there was no more grumbling from male pilots assigned to train on and fly the B-29 Super Fortress.” [7]

Those damned WASP‘ became a familiar refrain.


Collectively, the WASPflew every conceivable type of American military aircraft and logged over 60 million miles during their sixteen months of existence – often flying seven days a week. [8] Thirty-eight WASP lost their lives, and one – Gertrude ‘Tommy’ Tompkins-Silver – disappeared while ferrying a P-51 from LA to the East Coast. She is the only WASP whose fate today remains unknown. [9]

Although the majority of the pilots were Caucasian, five pioneering women of color did break the racial barrier. Two of them were Chinese-Americans (Hazel Ying Lee and Maggie Gee ) one was Native American (Ola Mildred Rexroat, a Oglala Sioux woman from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, South Dakota), and two were Hispanic-Americans (Verneda Rodríguez[**] and Frances Dias). [10]

The number of black women pilots who applied for WASP training is unknown. However, several African-American pilots did make it to the final interview stage.

Mildred Hemmans Carter was one of those finalists. In 1940, at age 19, she earned a Bachelor Degree from the Tuskegee Institute, and a year later, she earned her aviation certification. In 1943, Carter was among the first to apply to be a WASP. Like the other black pilots, she was rejected, largely because of her race. Finally, Carter’s extraordinary qualifications and her unfair rejection were acknowledged. She was retroactively recognized as a WASP– seventy years after the fact. [11]

Rugby Blog

Wasps is an English professional rugby union team and one of the most well-known clubs in the world, with a history that spans almost 150 years.

The Black and Gold Army, as they are affectionately known, has successfully won the European Championships twice and the Aviva Premiership no less than five times, and remains one of the most successful clubs in the UK.

Wasps currently compete in the Aviva Premiership, the European Rugby Champions Cup and the LV=Cup and the team is currently led by Dai Young, Director of Rugby and England internationals.

Below, Centurion takes a look at the history of Wasps from the early beginnings to the team that it is today.

The Early Years

In 1867, the men's first team was derived from Wasps Football Club with playing grounds at Eton and Middlesex Tavern in North London. The club's name was in keeping with the fashion of the Victorian period when it was normal for clubs to adopt the names of insects, birds or animals - it has no other significance. The First President of the club was Mr James Pain who remained with the Club until the Rugby Football Union formed in January 1871, which Wasps were cordially invited to join.

The Club's first grounds were located on Finchley Road in North London, although grounds were rented in various parts of London in the years that followed until 1923 when Wasps moved into Sudbury, where they eventually bought the ground outright and still own it to this day.

The War Years

Before the Second World War the Club celebrated its most successful season in 1930/31 under the leadership of captain Ronnie Swyer, which saw Wasps unbeaten with a total 530 points. Neville Compton formed part of the team joining Wasps in 1925, captaining the side from 1939 to 1947, and becoming the first player to represent the Club at Barbarian level. Compton worked for Wasps for a considerable amount of years until he finally retired in 1988.

During the Second World War, Wasps was graced with a mixture of great talents with many great players coming to Sudbury for Military Service. During this period, the Club became one of the major Rugby Union forces in England and many players went on to gain international recognition such as Pat Sykes (7 caps), Ted Woodward (15 caps, including 6 tries), Bob Stirling (18 caps), Richard Sharp (14 caps), Don Rutherford (14 caps and later RFU Technical Director) and Peter Yarranton (5 caps and 1991 RFU President).

For the Club's 90th birthday, the team enjoyed playing a rare full International XV at Twickenham.

The Centenary Year and Beyond

Wasps celebrated their Centenary year in 1967 playing on the fields of Rugby School where the founder of rugby, Willliam Webb Ellis, originally played in 1823, competing in matches against the Barbarians and Harlequins.

During the 1970s, the club struggled on the field, but by 1979 the arrival of two world-class players, Mark Taylor and Roger Uttley, saw the fortunes of the Club change dramatically. The 1980s brought with it a flood of international honours with nine Wasps players representing England between 1983 and 1985.

England representation hit its all-time peak when in 1989, Rob Andrew captained the full international side against Romania with David Pegler captaining the England B side and Steve Pilgrim captain of the under 21 team - all the teams won.

The 1980s saw many visits to Twickenham where Wasps were finalists of the John Player Cup in 1986 and 1987 against Bath in two very exciting matches that were unfortunately lost.

The 1990s began well when Wasps were crowned English National Champions and competed in the Courage Challenge Cup (former European Cup) where they beat Racing Club de France 23-13.

The Professional Era

The start of the professional era saw Wasps come together as one of the most powerful playing squads in the country. In 1996/97, under the leadership of England and British Lion Lawrence Dallaglio, one of the highlights of Wasps' career was clinching the first professional League Championship. In 1999 Wasps went on to win the Tetley's Bitter Cup, before winning it again in 2000 beating Northampton at Twickenham in front of thousands of delighted fans.

Adams Park Stadium

The 2001/2 season saw the last game played at Loftus Road as the London Wasps agreed to move out of Queens Park Rangers' stadium to allow Fulham F.C. to rent it out for two seasons between 2002 and 2004 while their ground, Craven Cottage was redeveloped. The final game at Loftus Road was an emotional moment for many of the players, staff and officials. Wasps became tenants at Adams Park in High Wycombe from the start of the 2002/3 season, but their subsequent success at the new ground which saw ticket sales rise 31%, meant they did not return to Loftus Road again after Fulham left.

The Noughties

After a slow start, the 2001/2 season received a vital boost when former New Zealand Rugby International and Ireland National coach Warren Gatland replaced Nigel Melville as Director of Rugby. This coincided with the return of many key players from injury including captain Lawrence Dallaglio, and saw Wasps climb from the bottom of the Zurich Premiership to end in the middle - a remarkable achievement which included six consecutive wins.

The following 2002/3 season has been noted as one of the greatest in Wasps' history which began with the welcome signing of Welsh legend Rob Howley and finished with the Club winning the Zurich Premiership and Parker Pen Challenge Cup trophies, winning 18 of the final 21 games and clinching their first English title since 1997, beating Gloucester in the final at Twickenham by 39 points to 3.

In 2003/4, Wasps finished once again at the top of their pool beating Toulouse 27-20 in the final against at Twickenham to win their first Heineken Cup, and then a week later beating Bath to retain their title of England's champion side, and complete a double.

In 2004, the RFU disqualified Wasps from the Powergen Cup for fielding an ineligible player, Jonny Barratt, but it didn't stop Wasps from finishing the season well and retaining the English title for the second time, beating Leicester Tigers in the final at Twickenham. Warren Gatland signed off at the end of the season and was replaced by Ian McGeechan at the start of the 2005/6, a season which saw Wasps win the Powergen Anglo-Welsh Cup beating Llanelli Scarlets in the final at Twickenham.

The next couple of years saw Wasps continue to triumph. In 2007, Wasps Beat Leicester 25-9 to Win rugby union's Heineken European Cup for the second time, then in the 2007/8 season, Wasps went from 10th in the league in October, to beat Leicester Tigers in the Guinness Premiership Final - a dream send-off for retiring Lawrence Dallaglio at Twickenham. Wasps had now won six league titles to become equal with Bath and just one behind Leicester Tigers.

The 2008/9 was not a memorable one for Wasps and after a number of players failed to play to their full potential, the Club eventually finished in seventh place, prompting a number of players such as James Haskell, Riki Flutey, Tom Palmer and Tom Voyce to leave the club. Ian McGeechan was also forced to step down as Director of Rugby, and was replaced by Tony Hanks, a former coach for Wasps. Wasps ended the season without a trophy for the first time in six years.

The 2009/10 and 2010/11 season were again disappointing ones for Wasps and Tony Hanks was soon replaced by current director of rugby Dai Young. The end of the 2011/12 season saw the club go up for sale after Wycombe Council turned down plans for a new stadium Wasps continued to struggle on the pitch.

The move to Ricoh Arena

In 2014, Wasps finally emerged from what was a perilous situation at times and completed the full purchase of the Ricoh Arena in Coventry after 12 years at Adams Park. Wasps currently share the stadium with tenants Coventry City Football Club. After gaining a 100% stake in the company on 14 November 2014, Wasps played their 1st game in Coventry on 21 December 2014, to complete a 48–16 win against London Irish.

A Complicated Commitment

The Women Airforce Service Pilots faced some unexpected challenges and resistance when they signed up. Friends and family wondered, Why on earth is she leaving &hellipher family&hellipher freedom&hellipa good job&hellipa teaching career&hellipthe Rockettes&hellipcollege&hellip? Male instructors at Avenger Field wondered publicly if the women could really fly these military planes, and male pilots worried privately that they could.

Was it possible that a woman could actually fly a plane as well as a man? And if she did &ndash and he was released from stateside duties as a result &ndash did he really want to be sent on combat missions overseas? Success for the Women Airforce Service Pilots was a complicated issue. Jacqueline Cochran herself noted that the female pilots were always reminded to "leave the glamour and the glory" for their brother pilots who were over on the front lines.

But perhaps the most difficult challenge was one the Women Airforce Service Pilots discovered they most cared about when they arrived at Avenger Field. Above all else, they didn&rsquot want to fail.

WASPs – The Women Who Served as Pilots in WWII

In World War II, women took aviator positions in the US Air Force in order to relieve the men of the First Tactical Air Force for combat duties. The women, known as WASPs (Women’s Airforce Service Pilots) took over tow-target and tracking mission flying. These are considered to be a couple of the most difficult and tedious jobs for pilots in the air force.

Both of those tasks require flying back and forth for hours on a preset course, making very precise turns in the process.

Though they were issued Air Force uniforms, they were considered civilian employees. When they arrived at air force bases, the MPs would often be confused, thinking that the women, in their uniforms, were trying to impersonate somebody, but not sure who it was they could possibly be trying to look like.

The first group of WASPs numbered 25. They moved into Camp Davis on July 10, 1943. They were soon joined by 25 more.

Jackie Cochran (center) with WASP trainees.

All of the WASPs completed a six-month training course at Sweetwater, Texas, after being selected from a pool of thousands of applicants.

During a six-week training course at Camp Davis, the women were trained in the link trainer and taught how to identify aircraft. They were educated in meteorology, navigation, medical training, seamanship, woodsmanship, and airplane and engine maintenance. They were also taught how to fill out the reports used in the air force and how to send and receive morse code.

On a typical day, they would wake for calisthenics at 6:45 am. They were given fifteen minutes to change before breakfast at 7:30 am. They then reported to the airfield to receive their missions for the day.

WASPs that received a mission in a new type of aircraft or a cross-country flight would meet to be briefed by their flight leader. The briefing room was marked with a sign stating, “WASP’s Nest, Drones Keep Out, or Suffer the Wrath of the Queen.”

WASP pilot Dorothy Olsen on the wing of a P-38L Lightning, 1945.

Pay for WASPs was lower than the pay for servicemen. They received $150 per month while in training and $250 per month after. From that, they needed to pay $50 for room and board and pay for their own uniforms at $12.50 per pair of pants and $8 to $12 per shirt. Most WASPs bought four sets.

The WASP program resulted from the merger of the earlier WAFS (Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron) which ferried new airplanes from the manufacturer to the air force bases and the WFTD (Women’s Flying Training Detachment) which ferried planes but also tested new engines, towed targets for anti-aircraft target practice, flew in searchlight tracking training missions and trained male pilot cadets.

While administered by the Army, the WASPs remained a Civil Service organization. This meant that the 38 WASPs who gave their lives in service to their country were denied military honors – they did not even receive funding to transport their bodies home. In 1977, Jimmy Carter signed the G.I. Bill Improvement Act which finally gave WASP pilots full military status. It wasn’t until 2016 that veteran WASPs were allowed to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

WASP pilot Dawn Seymour at the controls of a B-17 Fortress, circa 1944

By the time the WASP program was ended in December of 1944, over 1,000 pilots had been trained (including those trained in the WAFS and WFTD programs). Those women flew over 60,000,000 miles in operational flights and delivered 12,650 aircraft from manufacturers to airfields. That accounts for more than 50% of all combat aircraft built in the US during the war.

General “Hap” Arnold wrote in his letter of notification about the disbanding of the WASP program: “When we needed you, you came through and have served most commendably under very difficult circumstances… I want you to know that I appreciate your war service and the AAF will miss you…”

From 'Radio Diaries,' an Oral History of the WASPs

From 'Radio Diaries,' an Oral History of the WASPs

WASP pilots walk along a row of B-17 Flying Fortresses. Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum hide caption

Radio Diaries documentarian Joe Richman. Gary Gelb hide caption

"When you think about what radio does best, it's the characters and the intimacy of people telling their stories . Radio's good when you hear them whispering directly into your ear."

That's documentarian Joe Richman, talking about the audio art form that he plies and for which he named his production company: Radio Diaries. This week on All Things Considered, Richman and Radio Diaries present the documentary The WASPs: Women Pilots of WWII.

The half-hour documentary begins in the early 1940s when the Army Air Force faced a dilemma: It needed thousands of newly assembled airplanes delivered to military bases, but most of America's pilots were overseas fighting the war. To solve the problem, the government launched an experimental program to train new pilots -– the Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs. Drawn from more than 25 hours of interviews and archival tape, the documentary The WASPs presents an oral history of the pioneering program and pilots.

The WASPs is only one of more than 25 radio documentaries Richman has produced –- many of them "radio diaries" where the subjects turn the mikes on themselves and record their own aural journal entries. Critics praise the technique, and Richman's use of it. "Mr. Richman's recorded 'Diaries' are sometimes eerily intimate," says one, "with the audience entering into a closer bond with the person on tape than is possible perhaps in any other medium, including documentary film." And another commends Richman as "a radio Boswell, a biographer who stands aside and lets his subjects do the talking."

Exclusively for npr.org, Richman tells the stories behind the making of the documentary The WASPs.

npr.org: What planted the seed for a project on World War II women aviators?

Richman: It's always strange how stories begin. Usually we go out looking for stories, but sometimes the stories come looking for you. That was the case with the WASPs. Teal Krech, who I work with at Radio Diaries, came to work one day with a page from her high school alumni magazine. She had ripped out a small profile of a woman who had graduated from this high school 60 years earlier. There was a photo from 1943 that showed a tough and beautiful woman in a leather bomber jacket leaning against a huge plane — it was a B-25 — and there was a look in her eyes. The photo told all you needed to know about the WASPs.

How many of these WASPs were there at the height of their service, about how many of them are still alive today — and how did you go about finding them?

The Air Force was looking for pilots to do some of the domestic jobs — ferrying airplanes, testing airplanes, towing targets for anti-aircraft practice — and to take the place of men who were going to combat. In 1941 there were about 3,000 women who had a private flying license. So that's where the Air Force started to look. By the end of the two-year WASP experiment, 25,000 women had applied for the program, 1,800 or so had gone through basic training, and 1,074 graduated.

Of the graduates there are, I think, about 600 still alive. And judging from the 50 or so that we met (about half of whom we interviewed), they are all strong-willed, independent, wonderful, kick-ass women.

When we started to research the story, we found out that in about two weeks, many of the women were going to be meeting in Tucson for a reunion. So our timing was very lucky. We met most of the women we interviewed at the reunion, but also did more interviews with WASPs around the country in the months that followed.

We had to do so many interviews because the documentary has no reporter or narrator (the style we usually work in). The story is told entirely in the voices of the women who flew in World War ll. In the end, we had about 30 hours of interviews, plus tons of wonderful archive newsreel recordings. The newsreels are wonderful and cheesy. It seems that each time Fox Movietone or whoever came to do a story about the WASPs in WWll, there had to be a scene where the women pilots relax in their bathing suits.

What sort of experiences did your interview subjects share about being women in a distinctly male domain?

Well, they all have different views on this. Most of them say it was pretty tough, that some of the men didn't like the idea of women pilots — especially if the women were getting some of the "good" jobs. But all the women talk about their WASP experience as a magical bubble — a lucky accident of history — that allowed them to fly planes that women otherwise would not fly until 1976. That was the year the Air Force finally let women in.

I think it's a classic WWll story for many of these women: The war gave them experience and training that they would not have had otherwise. But when the men came back, the women were expected to leave the factories — and airfields — and return home. As one of the WASPs, Kaddy Steele, said, they didn't want to return to housekeeping or the Junior League. But after the war there weren't many jobs for women pilots.

What's your favorite close-call story from these interviews?

There are so many amazing stories — and of course, like any documentary, so many that never get into the final piece.

Dora Strother tells the story of being one of two women to fly the B-29. It was a brand new plane, the bomber that would later drop the bomb on Japan. But at the time, it was getting a bad reputation at the training bases because of engine fires, and the men didn't want to fly it. So combat test pilot Paul Tibbets had the idea to train two women to fly the B-29 to show the men "how easy it was." (Tibbets subsequently led the crew of the Enola Gay that dropped the first atomic bomb on Aug. 6, 1945.)

Many of the women had interesting close call stories. And, of course, there were some who were killed — engine failure, collisions, etc. Over the two years of the WASPs, 38 women were killed — flying back then was a pretty dangerous thing to do.

Tell us about the WASP you met who's still flying, and your outing with her.

The documentary starts and ends with Elizabeth Eyre Taylor from Massachusetts, who still flies at the age of 79. When we heard that some of the women still fly, well, we knew it had to go in the story. So we went up with her.

It was amazing. And a bit scary. Those small planes are pretty skittish — or was that me? Taylor doesn't fly much anymore, but she also says she has no plans to stop, ever. She's been flying an airplane for 60 years — so I guess we were in good hands.

The documentary The WASPs was produced by Joe Richman, Teal Krech and Shelley Preston. Editors were Ben Shapiro and Deborah George.

Women with Wings: The 75-Year-Legacy of the WASP

I’ll never forget the first time I saw that little gold medal. I was walking through the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, glancing through the glass cases. At only two inches in diameter, it’s easily overlooked, dwarfed by the rows of aircraft and other eye-catching memorabilia. One of the highest honors given to civilians, this Congressional Gold Medal presented to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) represents the contributions of female pilots during World War II. Seventy-five years ago, on August 5, 1943, a remarkable group of women stepped into roles that would earn them the Congressional Gold Medal. The story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) is one of courage, and their legacy is crucial to understanding the role of women as aviators within the United States military.

In 1942, less than a year into WWII, U.S. Army Air Forces General, Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, requested approval of two programs: The Women Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) and the Women’s Flying Training Detachment (WFTD). The WAFS and WFTD were intended to free male pilots for combat operations overseas by having women pilot domestic operations. The programs were led by two of the most skilled female aviators of the 20 th century, Jackie Cochran (WFTD) and Nancy Love (WAFS). On August 5, 1943, with Jackie Cochran as director, these two agencies merged, officially establishing the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Cochran was a celebrated woman pilot whose career spanned four decades from the 1930s to the 1960s. In 1937, she won the prestigious long-distance Bendix Trophy Race, flying from Los Angeles to Cleveland in a little more than eight hours. She later founded the WASP (Women Airforce Service Pilots), a group of civilian women who flew military aircraft in non-combat situations during World War II. In 1953 she became the first woman to break the sound barrier.

In order to apply, a woman required a civilian pilot’s license. Access to a pilot’s licenses varied, as women either relied on the assistance of their families or would scrape together every dime they had earned to pay for flight hours and certifications. In addition, women had to pass an Army Air Corps physical and cover their cost of transportation to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas for basic training. After months of military flight training, 1,102 of the original 25,000 applicants took to the skies as the United States’ first women to pilot military aircraft. Though not trained for combat, the WASP flew a total of 60 million miles performing operational flights, towing aerial targets, transporting cargo, smoke laying and a variety of other missions. By December 1944, the WASP had flown every type of military aircraft manufactured for WWII. However, although the WASP proved that women could capably fly all types of military aircraft, their inclusion in military aviation became a matter of waiting for official acceptance which would not be forthcoming for decades.

Propelled by a sense of passion and duty, these women were willing to make the same sacrifices as their male counterparts. From 1943 to 1944, 38 WASP died in service to their country. While flying in formation from Long Beach to Love Field in Dallas, the left wing of Cornelia Fort’s BT-13 struck the flight officer’s landing gear. The aircraft spiraled into a dive, and at 24-years-old, Fort became the first female pilot in American history to die on active duty. Recruited in 1942 by Nancy Love to join the WAFs, Fort had been working as a civilian pilot instructor during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and these events inspired her to serve.

Cornelia Fort (with a PT-19A) was a civilian instructor pilot at an airfield near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the Japanese attacked on Dec. 7, 1941. Fort was killed on March 21, 1943 while ferrying BT-13 trainers in Texas, making her the first American woman to die on active military duty.

Fort and the 37 additional WASP who gave their lives in service did not have flags draped over their caskets. Although these women flew military aircraft, they were considered civilians, and were not granted military benefits or burials. Despite Gen. Arnold’s efforts to push for full military status, the organization was disbanded on December 20, 1944. It took 30 years for women to fly again in the United States Armed forces, with the Navy and Army accepting their first female pilots in 1974 and the Air Force following suit in 1976.

The WASP flew a total of 60 million miles performing operational flights, towing aerial targets, transporting cargo, smoke laying and a variety of other missions.

The WASP and their stories appear within the Smithsonian collection in great part due to the women’s efforts for recognition. Bernice Haydu, who graduated basic training on March 10, 1944, donated her Santiago Blue uniform coat to the Museum in 1969. Upon being elected as President of the WASP organization in 1975, Haydu introduced a bill to the Senate to grant WASP retroactive veteran status. It initially failed. After two years of lobbying, President Jimmy Carter finally signed the bill into law in 1977.

On March 10, 2010, 66 years after the organization was disbanded, the WASP received the Congressional Gold Medal for their service, record, and “revolutionary reform in the Armed Force” during WWII. Around 200 WASP, many in their eighties and nineties, arrived at the Capitol to accept the honor.

With today being the 75 th anniversary of their founding, I encourage all to reflect on their service, and if you ever find yourself at the Udvar-Hazy Center, I urge you to find the WASP Congressional Gold Medal. Though small in size, it encapsulates the magnitude of the valor and courage of a truly unique group of women. In great debt to the WASP, the medal presents an opportunity to inspire future generations, and to have more women with wings in the United States Armed Forces.

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