Educator, soldier, and psychologist, Charity Adams Earley paved the way for African American women in the military, in education, and in her community. She led the first African American women’s 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 instill 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 12 others passed the test to transfer to high school. However, her parents did not allow her to move up early because she was already several grades ahead of her peers. She graduated valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School. She earned a scholarship and attended Wilburforce University in Ohio, one of the best African American colleges at the time.
While at college, Earley majored in mathematics, Latin, and physics, and minored in history. She was also very active in school groups, participating in the university’s branch 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 degree in 1938.
Towards the end of her time at Wilburforce University, Earley also took courses in education, so she could teach after completing her degree. From 1938 until 1942, Earley taught math and science at a junior high school in Columbia, South Carolina. During the summers, she took graduate courses in vocational psychology at Ohio State University.
During the early years of World War II, 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. 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 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 African American female officer at the training center.
At the end of 1944, Earley was chosen to be the commanding officer of the first African American unit of WAC to go overseas. Her unit was the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Their mission was to organize and direct mail to US servicemen, which had gone undelivered. The battalion was faced with hangers full of mail, which needed to be sorted. 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, they accomplished their goal in three months. Next they moved to postal facilities in Rouen and Paris, France, again organizing mail. Earley estimated that the unit handled approximately 65,000 pieces of mail a 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 organization, 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 presented Earley with a scroll of honor for her distinguished service to the military.
After leaving the military, Earley was inundated with requests from groups to give talks about her wartime experiences. Earley also went back to Ohio State University and completed her Master of Arts degree in 1946. After graduating, 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 GI Bill. Earley 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. Then she took courses for two years at the University of Zurich. In her second year, Earley also studied at the Jungian Institute of Analytical Psychology, but did not pursue a degree.
Upon her return to the United States in the 1950s, Earley was extremely active in community and civic work in Ohio. 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 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, DC in 1996, the institution recognized Earley’s achievements in World War II.
By Kelly A. Spring
- 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