A new annual tradition was launched during last month’s M2W®-The Marketing To Women Conference, the First Woman Award.  “The First Woman Award is given to a woman who has accomplished something noteworthy that was never achieved by any other woman before her,” said Nan McCann, M2W® producer.  “Recipients of this award, through their courage, commitment, talent, passion, and persistence have made a difference in the quality of our world and are deserving of our recognition and appreciation.”

Drucilla Dence of Draftfcb was on hand during the conference to accept the inaugural M2W® First Woman Award on behalf of her godmother Josephine Keating Swift, “Jo” to those who know her, and the 1500 other women who were members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots, better known as the WASP. Between 1942 and 1944, at the height of World War II, approximately 1,500 women left homes and jobs for the opportunity to become the first women in history to fly for the U.S. military.  After completing four months of military flight training, 1,078 of them earned their wings and became the first women to fly American aircraft and were stationed at 120 air bases across the United States assuming numerous flight-related missions, reliving male pilots for combat duty.  They flew 60 million miles of operational flights and flew almost every type of aircraft flown by the U.S. Army Airforce during World War II.

Thirty-eight WASP fliers lost their lives while serving during the war—including one of the women whom Jo shared a barrack.   Because they were not considered to be in the military under the existing guidelines, a fallen WASP was sent home at the expense of her family without traditional military honors or note of heroism.  When Jo realized the U.S. military was refusing to pay to send her fellow WASP’s body home to her family, she took it upon herself to go around with a tin can and collect the necessary funds—and she did.

It wasn’t until the G.I. Bill Improvement Act of 1977 that the WASP corps was granted full military status for their service and in 1984 each WASP was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and those who served for more than one year were also awarded the American Campaign Medal.  On March 10, 2010, at the age of 92, Josephine Keating Swift traveled to Washington D.C. with 200 other surviving WASPs to attend two days of ceremonies commemorating their incredible accomplishments and to accept the Congressional Gold Medal.

“To loop back to our theme from this year’s conference, Jo Swift contributed to the SHE of WE by what she did.  She and all WASP helped change the status of women in aviation and in military service,” said McCann.  At the conclusion of the conference, The First Woman Award was sent to Denton, Texas and was added to the Texas Women’s University WASP historical collection…where these extraordinary First Women are memorialized.