Educator, soldier, and psychologist, Charity Adams Earley paved the way for African American women in the military, in education, and in her community. Her most prominent role was leading the first African American women unit of the army on a tour of duty overseas during World War II.
Charity Adams Earley was born on December 5, 1918 in Kittrell, North Carolina. She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. Her father, a minister, and her mother, a former teacher, were well educated and sought to instil in their children a love of books and learning. Earley was intellectually gifted, and began elementary school as a second grader. During her last year in elementary school, she, along with other students in her class were tested for early advancement to high school. Earley and twelve others passed the test for high school. However, her parents did not allow her to move up early, because she has already several grades ahead of her peers. She graduated valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School. Graduating top of her class enabled her to gain a scholarship, so that she could attend Wilburforce University in Ohio, one of the best African American higher educational institutions at the time.
While at university, Earley majored in mathematics, Latin, and physics, while she minored in history. She was also very active in school groups, participating in the university’s branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Women’s Self-Government Association, and the Greek sorority, Delta Sigma Theta. She graduated from Wilberforce University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1938.
Towards the end of her studies at Wilburforce University, Earley also took courses in education, so that she could teach after completing her degree. From 1938 until 1942, she taught math and science in a junior high school in Columbia, South Carolina. In the summers, when she was not teaching, she took graduate courses at Ohio State University, later declaring her major as vocational psychology.
In 1942, the United States was expanding its military forces as it went to war with Germany and Japan. As part of this effort, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC), later known as the Women’s Army Corps (WAC), was created in the spring of 1942. Hearing about the formation of the WAAC, Earley decided to apply for a place in the organization. She was accepted in July of that year and travelled to Iowa to begin training at Fort Des Moines as a member of the first officer candidate school. She completed training and was commissioned on August 29, 1942. Earley remained at the training center in Fort Des Moines until 1944. During that time she worked as a staff training officer, a station control officer, and a company commander. In September 1943, she was promoted to major, making her the highest ranking female officer at the training center.
At the end of 1944, Earley was chosen to be the commanding officer of the first unit of WAC African Americans to go overseas. Her unit was the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Their mission was to organize and direct mail to U.S. servicemen which had gone undelivered. The battalion was faced with air hangers full of undelivered post, which needed to be sorted and redirected. Earley’s unit began working in Birmingham, England. The women worked around the clock in three shifts, for eight hours per shift, seven days a week. They were tasked with clearing all the backlogged mail in six months, but they were able to accomplish their goal in three months. Next they moved to postal facilities in Rouen and Paris, France, again organising mail which had gone undelivered. Earley estimated that the unit handled approximately 65,000 pieces of post per day.
For her work in the WAC, Earley was promoted to lieutenant colonel on December 26, 1945. This rank was the highest possible promotion for any women in the WAC and placed her directly under the colonel and director of the organisation, Oveta Culp Hobby. In March 1946, she requested to be relieved from active duty. Upon her discharge from the military, The National Council of Negro Women Inc. presented Earley with a scroll of honor for distinguished service to the military.
After leaving the services, Earley was inundated by many groups to give talks about her wartime experiences. Earley also went back to Ohio State University and completed her MA in 1946. Following the completion of her degree, she went to work with the Veterans Administration in Cleveland, Ohio as a registration officer. In this position, she reviewed WWII veterans’ requests for educational funding and other benefits offered under the G.I. Bill. She determined how much each veteran would be awarded. She continued in this position from 1946 to 1947. She then turned to a variety of roles in academic administration. She worked as the dean of student personnel services at Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State College in Nashville, Tennessee and the dean of students at Georgia State College in Savannah, Georgia.
After getting married in 1949, Earley moved to Zurich, Switzerland, where her husband, Stanley A. Earley Jr., was training to be a doctor. In Zurich, she attended Minerva Institute for ten months to learn German. When she had mastered the language, she attended courses for two years at the University of Zurich. In her second year, Earley also studied at the Jungian Institute of Analytical Psychology, but she did not pursue a degree.
Upon her return to the United States in the 1950s, she was extremely active in community and civic work in Ohio, where she lived. She sat on a number of boards including: the board of directors and the board of governors of the Dayton chapter of the American Red Cross, the board of the Sinclair Community College, and the board of the Dayton Power and Light Company. She was the founder of the Black Leadership Development Program (BLDP) in Dayton in 1982, which seeks to educate and train African Americans to be leaders in their communities. Parity, or Parity Inc. as it is now known, which Earley helped create in 2000, facilitates the BLDP’s training program.
Before her death on January 13, 2002, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum honored Earley for her work with the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. In a ceremony held in Washington, D.C. in 1996, the institution recognized Earley’s achievements in World War II.
- Earley, Charity Adams. One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC. College Station: Texas A & M University Press, 1989.
- Putney, Martha S. When the Nation was in Need: Blacks in the Women's Army Corps During World War II. Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 1992.
- Goldstein, Richard. “Charity Adams Earley, Black Pioneer in Wacs, Dies at 83.” New York Times, January 22, 2002. Accessed July 25, 2017. http://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/22/us/charity-adams-earley-black-pioneer-in-wacs-dies-at-83.html
- Lenhart, Jennifer. “Six Military Women and Six U.S. Wars: Charity Adams Earley-World World II.” The Washington Post, October 18, 1997. Accessed July 25, 2017. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/local/longterm/tours/womensmemorial/six18.htm
- Kells, Laura J. “Charity Adams Earley Papers: A Finding Aid to the Collection in the Library of Congress.” Library of Congress, April 2010. Accessed July 25, 2017. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/2009/ms009089.pdf
- Boyd, Deana and Kendra Chen. “The History and Experience of African Americans in America’s Postal Service - The 6888th: Women Who Managed the Military’s Mail.” Smithsonian National Post Museum. Accessed July 25, 2017. https://postalmuseum.si.edu/AfricanAmericanHistory/p7.html
- Parity Inc. “Parity Inc.” Accessed July 25, 2017. https://www.parityinc.org/
PHOTO: National Archives
MLA - Spring, Kelly. "Charity Earley." National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum, 2017. Date accessed.
Chicago - Spring, Kelly. "Charity Earley" National Women's History Museum. 2017. www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/charity-earley.
- Author unknown. World War II- Major Charity Adams- 6888 Postal Battalion. Director unknown. 1945. Distribution information unknown. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G2_0HZMv2dA