August 21, 2017
Harriet M. West-Waddy was born on June 4th 1904 as Harriet Hardin. During World War II She went on to become one of the highest-ranking African-American Officers in the armed forces. She married several times during her life, however the only particularly documented were with physician Dr Charles West, and later with fellow Major Edward Waddy. She got particular recognition when she appeared on a radio broadcast in April, 1943 on behalf of the army. During the broadcast, she urged black women to join the armed forces. She clarified that even though a segregated military “did not represent an ideal democracy”, that it should not be viewed as a “retreat from our fight” but rather a “contribution to the realization.”
Over 6,500 black women joined the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) to serve the country, in which segregation was the official policy. Many of the women served as uniformed domestic servants, cleaning out officer’s clubs. Waddy sought out to fight for these women and change the perception of how black women were viewed in the armed forces.
By August 21st, 1943 West was promoted to Major (MAJ) and became the official aid to the WAC director Col. Oveta Culp Hobby. Maj. Harriet West and Maj. Charity Adams became the only two black women to attain the rank of major during wartime. Now with an incredibly high ranking, West was able to take action in changing the status of black women in the military and became an advisor to the army on racial issues. Major West fought against racially insulting Army decrees, recommending that all official references to ‘white’ and ‘colored’ personnel be completely eliminated. She believed that this would be a major step into a more legitimate democracy. West believed that wartime service in the military could help blacks gain acceptance, as well as showing what black women in particular were truly capable of. Her fellow Major, Charity Adams complimented Wests work ethic, stating that she was “charming and well disciplined”
“As an African-American s not a single door [in Washington D.C.] that I can walk through; but as a Major in the WAC there is not a door I cannot walk through.” – LTC Harriet West-Waddy
By 1948 West was promoted to Lietenant Colonel(LTC), and finally retired in 1952 after a career span of 25 years and later divorced her 4h husband Maj. Edward Waddy. Although married 4 times, Harriet never had any children. she was incredibly independent and appreciated the freedom to travel that the Army afforded her. After her military years, she worked as a Federal Aviation Administration and counseled troubled girls at a Job Corps center in Oregon for a numerous amount of years. She later moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, where she resided up until she passed away on February 21, 1999. She was 94 years old.
Harriet West-Waddy serves as monumental figure in black history. Even during the horrific times of segregation and misogynistic peaks, Waddy still managed to portray an immense amount of leadership, fearlessness, and determination. She set an example for all women, especially black women, that any obstacle can be hurdled and greatness will be achieved with the right mindset.