Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, 1918-2007

By Brown, John S. | Army, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington, 1918-2007


Brown, John S., Army


Historically Speaking

On November 7 Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington will be laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery. Director of the Women's Army Corps (WAC), she was one of two women first promoted to the rank of general officer, an honor she shared with Anna May Hayes of the Army Nurse Corps. This seems a good time to review her life and the place she seems likely to occupy in history.

Gen. Hoisington was born into an Army family in Newton, Kan., on November 3, 1918. Her grandfather was one of the founders of the National Guard in Kansas, and her father was a career officer and a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy. Her three brothers graduated from West Point as well, and her two sisters married career Army officers. Having graduated from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland in Baltimore, when World War II erupted she, too, was eager to serve, joining the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) in November 1942.

As its name implies, the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was not fully integrated into the Army, but it did offer an opportunity for uniformed service during this time of crisis. Hoisington deployed to Bangor, Maine, as a private in the Aircraft Warning Service. She demonstrated leadership early, quickly rose to the rank of first sergeant and was dispatched to Officer Candidate School. She was commissioned as a WAAC third officer, roughly the equivalent of a second lieutenant, in May 1943.

Meanwhile, Army leaders had petitioned Congress to more fully integrate the WAAC into the Army. Women already proficient as telephone operators, stenographers and typists, among other specialties, would be invaluable overseas; tiaining men for such roles was considered an undue burden likely to yield substandard performers. As a practical matter, deployed women would need the status of their male counterparts to guarantee them equivalent access to medical care, the protection of the Geneva Conventions if captured and veteran's benefits if injured or killed. Equal pay and privileges for equal work and responsibility would facilitate recruitment and incidentally would be fair as well. On July 3,1943, a bill converting the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps into the Women's Army Corps was signed into law, and WACs assumed ranks and responsibilities in the Regular Army.

Hoisington converted with her colleagues and deployed to London in 1944. She was among the first WACs ashore in France and entered Paris while Allied troops were still clearing it of the Wehrmacht. Hoisington moved forward with Twelfth Army Group's advance and was in Potsdam supporting the Peace Conference after Germany surrendered in May 1945. Here, she was instrumental in organizing the telephone system that supported the conference. Hoisington's responsibilities when directing the activities of WACs subordinate to her were executive, expanding as WACs increasingly performed in specialties previously not associated with women. Famously, she later quipped, "If I had learned to type, I would never have made brigadier general."

In 1946, as demobilization from World War II slashed its numbers, the Army petitioned Congress to retain the Women's Army Corps as a permanent establishment within the Regular Army. This acknowledgement of the wartime success of the WAC was intended to preserve a framework for future service and mobilization. On June 12, 1948, the peacetime WAC became law. Hoisington matured with the Corps. She was executive officer of a WAC battalion in Tokyo; commanded in Japan, Germany and France; and served in staff positions of increasing responsibility in San Francisco and the Pentagon. …

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