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Millie the Mapper

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.

Women plotting aircraft positions. 1943. Farm Security Administration - Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

Women plotting aircraft positions. 1943. Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection, Library of Congress.

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.

Army Signal Corps training in Aberdeen, Maryland. 1942. From left to right: Vivian Johnston Goddin, Katherine Novotny, Dene Miller. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

Army Signal Corps training in Aberdeen, Maryland. 1942. From left to right: Vivian Johnston Goddin, Katherine Novotny, Dene Miller. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

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.

Work produced by Goddin during her Army Signal Corps training at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

Work produced by Goddin during her Army Signal Corps training at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

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.

9 Comments

  1. Deedar Daudpota
    March 11, 2016 at 11:28 pm

    Ironically, we live in male chauvinism world. Women have played their role shoulder to shoulder with men in every walk of life, but they are still ignored entity like a second citizen OR men treat them as aliens. I think, it is high time to give them as equal caliber of men in the world.
    No women has been appointed as GS of UN and even no women has been even won the nomination for the candidate of President of USA.

  2. jean harrington
    March 19, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    @Deedar Daudpota 2 words

    Margaret Thatcher

    Don’t ever elect someone simply for their gender.OK?

  3. Judith Tyner
    May 24, 2016 at 11:58 am

    Just want to set the record straight. While the term “Military Mapping Maidens” was used during WWII, “Millie the Mapper” was not. That term was coined in the 1990s for an article, “Millie the Mapper and Beyond”, which was the story of women cartographers in WWII.

  4. Annie Agard
    August 8, 2016 at 1:03 am

    Thanks so much for this! My mom, who recently died in her nineties, mentioned from time to time over the years that she worked drafting maps for the military in Washington during WWII. It is wonderful to have a more complete picture of what she was talking about!

  5. Susan Taylor
    September 12, 2019 at 4:40 am

    Anne Wilkins of Yakima Washington was a mapper, air traffic control tower operator, and French translator for the military during WWII. She also caught a spy. My Mom showed me photos of her work sites, the huge maps dotted with planes and ships and her co-workers, all women. She was traffic tower operator at Boeing Field in Seattle, then moved to San Francisco to create the booklets given to GI’s to explain landmarks and phrases “Hands up!” and much more in France. These booklets were made in a top secret unit at the Presidio. If a single booklet was released, the Germans and Japanese would know where the troops were landing or headed. A colonel brought her an assistant who purportedly came from Paris. His accent was incorrect and my Mom reported him. He was investigated and shot as a spy. I was honored to meet several of her Sigma Kappa sorority sisters at the U.W. who served as pilots to ferry planes across the Atlantic, doctors, and mappers. Anne Wilkins Taylor was proud to be a Millie the Mapper, air control operator, and French expert as her contribution to the war effort. I celebrate women !

  6. Merry Ann Frisby
    February 22, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    My mother was a Millie mapper in Washington DC during WW II. She talked about how concerned they were to get it right, knowing that soldiers lives dependent on them

  7. Clara Smith
    February 25, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    My mother worked for TVA in Chattanooga as a mapper during WW2. She had been at college at Tennessee Tech at Cookeville, TN and was asked to
    work for TVA. She told her family about it. She was probably in her 80s before she would admit that in public, because she said TVA had told them not to tell it. She is still living, and is very proud of that work.

  8. Clara Smith
    February 25, 2020 at 11:07 pm

    I wanted to add that my mother was mapping the areas where the fighting was going on, as it happened. Amazing! She is still living and can tell about it.

  9. Christy Coburn
    May 12, 2020 at 11:49 am

    My mother worked for TVA in Chattanooga as a mapper during WW2. She was a math and physics major at Agnes Scott College and went to work there straight out of school. She told us how the women would make maps for the bombers to use. The maps were drawn by looking at dozens of reconnaissance photos made by “reconnaissance planes” assigned for that purpose. The most significant assignment for herself and her team came when they were called to work in the middle of the night to do a top secret special assignment. Several days later they heard about the atomic bombs being dropped in Japan. Once the war was officially over, they were called in to be told that the “special assignment” had been the mapping of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. She felt great pride at having placed an important role in the ending of the war, but as the years went by she did have concern and conflicting feelings about the fact that the bombs had been used but always believed it had been necessary. She was, in her 80’s, able to visit the Smithsonian and see the Enola Gay on display.
    I would love to know how to obtain more information about the work the cartographers did in Chattanooga. It id hard to find information on that specific group of war cartographers.

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