In honor of Women’s History Month this March, Worlds Revealed is featuring weekly posts about the history of women in geography and cartography. You can click on the “Women’s History Month” category see all related posts.
We’ve all heard the story of Rosie the Riveter: women, from a wide variety of backgrounds, who entered the workforce during World War II to aid the American war effort. From Lakehurst to Oak Ridge to Willow Run, women became involved in an enormous range of jobs pertaining to wartime manufacturing, production, and preparation. Some of these women also became involved in drafting, photogrammetry, computing, and mapping. Called “Millie the Mappers” or “Military Mapping Maidens” these women played an integral role in producing accurate and up-to-date maps used by various branches of the military and government during World War II.
In 1941, the 77th Congress signed a bill that allocated additional funding to map areas around the globe that the Secretary of War deemed “strategic.” The federal government found their existing map coverage to be inadequate for the war and created training programs to address their cartographic needs. Over the course of the war, thousands of women became involved in cartographic activities in both professional and subprofessional levels.
There were several college-grade courses recommended for students seeking to become involved with military mapping through the Engineering, Science, and Management War Training (ESMWT) program. Completing these classes qualified a student for the Federal Civil Service examination and by the middle of 1942, the Government had approved of 99 classes related to topographic mapping at 57 institutions in 30 States across the country. Coursework could consist of map drafting, surveying instruments, planetable surveying field procedures, photogrammetry, map editing, and map production.
In 2012, Nancy Goddin Miller, a daughter of a “Millie the Mapper” donated a collection of her mother’s drawings and exercises to the Geography & Map Division, as well as her grandfathers field surveying instruments. Her mother, Vivian Virginia Johnston Goddin, produced these works as a part of her cartographic training in the Army Signal Corps at Aberdeen Proving Ground between 1942 and 1943. Without any prior formal training in drafting or cartography, Goddin became a certified draftsman for the Army Signal Corps and continued to make maps long after the war ended.
Following their training, Millie the Mappers could do a wide variety of work across the military. Women helped develop maps for the Battle of the Bulge, drafted topographic maps using aerial photography (photogrammetry), and compiled maps and charts just like Vivian Goddin. Some federal agencies, according to the Civil Service Commission, preferred to have women do drafting, computing, and photogrammetry because of their skill and aptitude. In a 1945 monograph, the cartographer Hubert A. Bauer proclaimed that “with several years of excellent work to their credit, women’s place cartography appears to be established.” Millie the Mappers and Military Mapping Maidens, with their expertise and talents, have helped pave the way for future generations of women to enter the fields of cartography and geography.