Pioneering Brig. Gen. Elizabeth P. Hoisington

Elizabeth P. Hoisington, who led the Women's Army Corps, was one of the first two women in the U.S. military promoted to brigadier general.
Elizabeth P. Hoisington, who led the Women's Army Corps, was one of the first two women in the U.S. military promoted to brigadier general. (United Press International)
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 24, 2007

Elizabeth P. Hoisington, who led the Women's Army Corps through a period of dramatic change in the 1960s and '70s and was one of the first two women in the U.S. military promoted to the rank of brigadier general, died Aug. 21 of congestive heart failure at the Aarondale assisted living community in Springfield, where she lived. She was 88.

At a Pentagon ceremony June 11, 1970, Gen. Hoisington and Anna Mae Hays of the Army Nurse Corps became the first two women in the United States to have a brigadier general's star pinned on their shoulders.

Their promotions were a public relations coup for the Army. A photograph of Gen. William C. Westmoreland, the Army chief of staff, kissing Gen. Hoisington at the ceremony was featured in newspapers and in the World Book encyclopedia. She and Hays appeared on the Dick Cavett, David Frost and "Today" shows, and Gen. Hoisington -- who possessed a bright smile and an outgoing personality -- was a guest on the popular game show "What's My Line?"

Gen. Hoisington, who came from a military family, enlisted in the old Women's Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942 and quickly proved to be a talented, organized and well-liked officer. In 1966, during a period when the role of women was changing as much in the military as in society at large, she was named director of the Women's Army Corps.

She was proud that during her five years leading the WAC, the number of women in the service rose from fewer than 10,000 to almost 13,000. Their duties, once largely secretarial and supportive, expanded to include intelligence, electronics, personnel administration and air traffic control.

"She was a great leader," Hays, her fellow brigadier general, said of Gen. Hoisington in an interview this week. "She was really well-loved. She was held in great respect."

The Women's Army Corps remained a distinct branch within the Army until it was abolished in 1978 and women assumed duties alongside men. Gen. Hoisington sternly maintained that the women under her command were never second-class military citizens.

"We were always just as much officers as any other officer," she said in 1988. "To those who say we weren't, hell to them. I wasn't in the Salvation Army. The WAC was just like any other corps."

While presiding over a time of fast-moving change, Gen. Hoisington also saw herself as a guardian of the traditions and honor of the women's corps. As the Vietnam War progressed, married women were allowed to serve in the WAC, pregnant women were granted leave and some legal infractions were overlooked. Previously, any of these circumstances would have led to immediate discharge.

Gen. Hoisington was furious about what she saw as a capitulation to lax moral standards.

"The recent acceleration of the women's liberation movement and the publicity it attracts from the news media, in my opinion, threatens to overwhelm good sense and perspective in the management of Women's Army Corps personnel," she wrote in a 1970 memorandum. "I feel a deep moral conviction and obligation to make my objections known and understood."

She was equally adamant that women should never play an active role in combat.

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