Air University Press


There from the Beginning: Women in the US Air Force

  • Published
  • By Marissa N. Kester

Since women were first allowed to officially join the US military in 1948, their integration into the traditionally masculine domain of war fighting has been both evolutionary and revolutionary. The Air Force has never known an existence without women in the ranks, which in turn has helped shape the perception, available opportunities, and utilization of female Airmen over the last 72 years. This definitive history draws from surviving extant records—scarce though they might be, in an institution not always given to chronicling the contributions of its female members—as well as interviews with the people who lived and made the history as it happened. What was it like being a woman in the Air Force throughout the decades? What challenges did these women face? How did they perceive their role in the force? What were their successes and where is there desire for change today? Perhaps most importantly, how can this historical context be used to help define and create the Air Force of the future?

AuthorMarissa N. Kester
AU Press CodeB-172

Author of There From the Beginning: Women in the US Air Force

Marissa Kester is a captain in the US Air Force Reserve currently serving as a senior historian and individual mobilization augmentee to the Air Force Reserve Command history and heritage office. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of Charleston in 2010 and earned a master’s degree from American Military University in 2013; she served for five years on active duty before transitioning to the Reserve in 2016. Captain Kester has served as an intelligence analyst and instructor and is widely published on both classified and unclassified domains. Her current research involves women and leadership through history.

Q1. What inspired you to put in the time and research for There From the Beginning: Women in the US Air Force?

Mostly the fact that there wasn’t anything else out there already on the topic of women in the Air Force. While there are several excellent books about women in the US military as a whole or women in the other services, it was clear to me the AF needed their own version.

I was also genuinely curious to fill the gaps in my own knowledge about Air Force and women’s history and where they merged. Of course, I probably have more questions now than when I started. My goal was to create a foundational source that others can use as a starting point for their own, more specific research.

Q2. Did you uncover unexpected findings?

It took me three years to research and write this book—and a lot of that is because I really took the time to learn about nineteenth and twentieth-century American history, military history, and Air Force history. (All my previous study and work has been focused on European history.) To be honest, most of it was unexpected because there was so much I didn’t know.

Q3. What was your biggest surprise?

The biggest surprise to me was my own perception shift concerning how quickly US military and culture has changed over the last 100 years. We are only a few generations away from a world we wouldn’t recognize in many ways—particularly in regard to gender.

I find it generally fascinating how quickly us humans forget…what was one generation’s struggle or progress becomes a baseline assumption of the next. It was not long ago women couldn’t have a bank account in their own name and today we have female CEOs and four star generals. While year-to-year progress may seem slow or tedious, I find the depth and speed of the change concerning women over the life span of the AF (1947- present) to be both surprising and inspiring.

Q4. What did you already suspect that was confirmed by the research?

There is an interesting dynamic with the military in that, as an institution, it tends to be socially conservative during periods of relative peace but when push comes to shove and there is a crisis at hand (and therefore different manpower demands) convention goes out the window. To me this shows that the underlying question concerning gender integration was never really “are women brave or capable enough for military service?” The question was more, “how far do we want to push or challenge social norms?”

Q5. What are you hoping readers will take from this book (I.e., a lasting impression, a new understanding)?

Through my research, I felt that many books concerning women in the military were written to convince or prove women’s worth—whether in the military or as a whole. While I obviously find great value in understanding the past, I did not want to spend any energy on judging it. I have the great privilege of being born in the generation after these women who fought for so many rights I freely enjoy and expect today. I wanted to use that privilege to remember and honor their experiences while also moving the conversation forward.

The validity and positive value of women being fully integrated into the military is an assumption that we can now build upon. Let’s move forward and focus our energy on what we want to create.


Wild Blue Yonder on the Air - Ep. 11 - Capt Marissa Kester, USAFR on "There from the Beginning: Women in the US Air Force"


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