A life in full: Thomson woman lived as pilot, teacher and
By Jerrie MacIntire
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
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 --
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
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
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)