Women’s Radio Corps of WWI.

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Members of the Women’s Radio Corps. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Div.

Spearheaded by suffragist Erna von Rodenstein Owen (Mrs. Herbert Sumner Owen, 1859–1936), the Women’s Radio Corps was created in 1917 to train female wireless operators so that male operators could be released for war service. Courses were held at locations such as the YMCA and Hunter College in New York. Members included:

Belle W. Baruch (1899–1964), daughter of financier Bernard Baruch. After she received a first-grade telegraphy license, she was appointed to the US Army Signal Corps and taught Morse code to aviation recruits. As Mary Miller’s Baroness of Hobcaw notes, on one occasion Baruch and David Sarnoff (RCA president and former wireless operator) tapped jokes and messages to each other in Morse code.

Reed Lorena Reed (later Protheroe, 1895–1974). Maine native Reed had ambitions to be an actress before her interest turned to radio. As this piece from the Cambridge Chronicle and her obituary make clear, she was a teacher of Morse code to naval cadets, was an instructor in radio physics at Wellesley, and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Signal Corps during World War I. She married Owen G. Protheroe in 1918 and had one child, Polly. After taking the US Steamboat Inspection Pilots Examination in 1923, she was licensed to operate vessels up to 65 feet—a license she held for more than 50 years. She was a WAC in World War II and received a number of service medals.

Marconi-Hunterstu

Hunter College wireless students with Guglielmo Marconi and Erna Owen, July 1917. Owen’s daughter, Elise, is front row, second from right. Elise earned a first-grade emergency radio license.