Anne Marshall Howell Chamberlain Watson, 43-W-4

A life in full: Thomson woman lived as pilot, teacher and mother

By Jerrie MacIntire
Staff Writer

Anne Marshall Howell Chamberlain Watson's rich and interesting life came full circle, ending in the small town where it began 87 years ago.

Mrs. Watson, born in her mother's bed in Thomson and laid to rest in Westview Cemetery just across the street from her home, followed and fulfilled two dreams in her life -- to serve her country as a pilot during WW II and to teach.

"She did what she wanted to do. She lived a life with no regrets," said daughter-in-law Audrey Chamberlain.

As a child, Mrs. Watson would watch birds in flight and yearn to be like them soaring through the sky. Growing up in Thomson as the single girl in a family with three brothers, Mrs. Watson learned the toughness she would need later as she took a circuitous and challenging route to her flying career.

In addition to wanting to fly, she also loved children. In an era when women weren't always welcome in a man's world, she pursued a teaching degree while also taking flying lessons.

After attending Agnes Scott College and Bessie Tift College and graduating from the University of Georgia with a teaching degree, she took a job as an airline clerk in Atlanta just to be close to airplanes. She took flight lessons at Candler Field, then moved to Miami where she continued her training at Brown Airport. While there, she heard of a government effort to recruit female pilots as WASPs (Women's Air Force Service Pilot) and applied.

Mrs. Watson trained nine months at Avenger Field at Sweetwater, Tex., graduating in 1943 from the rigorous program. The war department required WASPs to undergo the same physical training and same exams as the male pilots. There were about 1,000 female graduates in her class, about half the number that began training and just a fraction of the number that applied -- 25,000.

She began her job of supporting the war effort by ferrying bombers cross country for the Air Transport Command of the Army Air Forces. By June, 1943, her flight log showed nearly 500 hours of flight time on a variety of aircraft. Records show she flew the C-47 cargo plane, the B-25 (her favorite) and the open cock pit PT-19A along with a variety of other craft.

Records show Mrs. Watson earned $3,000 per annum from the War Department, the 569th Base Unit, 33rd Ferrying Group.

After the war, she sought work as a pilot but was turned down. Among her papers was one rejection letter from Eastern Air Lines which seemed to sum up the discrimination she faced while pursuing a job as a pilot.

"This company has never employed women pilots and captains, and I do not believe a change will be made in this respect any time soon," the letter states.

Mrs. Watson chose to pursue her second dream, and headed home to Thomson to teach. She joined the brand new Laura Jones Elementary school, teaching first and second grade.

"She liked children. She was understanding," remembered her son, Raymond Chamberlain.

Her love of teaching is reflected by the hundreds of school portraits of former students she kept over the years.

"Each was very personal" he said.

From WASP pilot in WWII to Thomson school teacher, Mrs. Watson lived a life of adventure and variety while pursuing two dreams.

Web Posted September 16, 2004

(reprinted from the Thompson, GA McDuffie Mirror)