On the Front Line of Military Integration
A Local Life: Blanche L. Scott
In 1920, when Blanche Scott was 5, she moved with her mother and brother to Washington from the marshy hamlet of Boydton in southern Virginia. A few years later, when her mother didn’t come home from work, young Blanche waited for days until an uncle arrived to tell her that her mother had been killed in a streetcar accident near the National Zoo.
From that moment on, Scott would later say, she knew she could never depend on anyone else and would have to rely only on herself. She made her independent way through life, without anger or complaint, for 91 years until she died of a heart ailment Feb. 26 at the Knollwood military retirement home in Washington.
Scott graduated from Dunbar High School and attended Howard University in the 1930s until she had to quit for lack of money. She was a nurse’s aide at St. Elizabeths Hospital and a clerk at the Navy Department before enlisting in the old Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942. She went on to become a black female officer in the Army at a time when the military welcomed neither African Americans nor women.
The military was still segregated during World War II, when Scott was assigned to the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion as a personnel officer. Scott and her battalion were assigned to England and later France to handle the mail for U.S. soldiers in Europe. The 6888th would enter history as the only black women’s unit to see active duty overseas during the war.
“They walked into a postal system that was a disaster,” said Pat Jernigan, a retired Army colonel and military historian, “and they got it straightened out.”
“I don’t think this world understands quite yet the significance of women like Maj. Blanche Scott and the women of the 6888,” said Kate Scott, a doctoral candidate at the College of William & Mary, who interviewed Scott (no relation) for an oral history program of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation. “Women such as Blanche Scott successfully opened doors that were previously closed and locked for ethnic women and women of color.”
After the war, Scott found a champion in Army Air Forces Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who made her a public affairs officer under his command. (Davis went on to be the first African American general in the Air Force.)
When the military was integrated in the late 1940s, Scott was among the first black officers, male or female, to command mixed units, and rose to the rank of major.
“She truly enjoyed the military,” said Margaret Bailey, a retired colonel who knew Scott in recent years at Knollwood.
Bailey, the first African American woman to be a colonel in the Army Nurse Corps, said Scott shared her views as a young officer in the 1940s: “You sometimes had to speak out and demand what was right. I was constantly saying, ‘I want what I’m entitled to.’ We call it paying your dues. I’m an American. This is my country. I paid my dues.”
After the Korean War, the military sharply reduced its numbers, forcing Scott — and thousands of others — out of her career and the life she had known for more than 10 years. Recalling the vow she made when her mother died, Scott found a way to continue working and to retain her military benefits: She started over at the bottom.
Reenlisting as a 39-year-old private, she went back to work at the same personnel office at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., where she had been a senior officer. At the same time, she joined the Army Reserve, where she kept her rank as a major.
After 10 years, she retired simultaneously as a sergeant first class in the regular Army and as a major in the Reserve. By staying in the Reserve — and by having spent 20 years on active duty — Scott was able to retire with a full pension at her highest rank.
She then became a civilian employee at the same Army base before retiring as she approached 60. When she completed her Army career, she returned to college, receiving a degree in sociology from the University of Colorado in 1975.
She then moved back to Washington, where she attended St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and enjoyed going on an occasional cruise. She never married. A diminutive woman who favored bright dresses, she settled in Knollwood about six years ago.
“She sent everybody in this building” — about 200 — “a Christ- mas card every year,” Bailey said.
Scott also attended gatherings of Women’s Army Corps veterans, where the women were invited to discuss their experiences in the Army and in life.
“Blanche got up and talked ex- temporaneously,” recalled Jernigan, the retired colonel. “It was absolutely inspirational. She had some really tough times, but she was absolutely without any bitterness or rancor. She was at peace with the world.”
Blanche Scott joined the Army when it was friendly to neither African Americans nor women and eventually rose to the rank of major.