Mary E. Clarke

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Mary E. Clarke
Mary E. Clarke
Clarke during the late-1970s
Born(1924-12-03)December 3, 1924
Rochester, New York, US
DiedJune 10, 2011(2011-06-10) (aged 86)
San Antonio, Texas, US
AllegianceUnited States
Service/branchUnited States Army
Years of service1945–1981
RankMajor General
Commands heldWomen's Army Corps
Battles/warsWorld War II
AwardsLegion of Merit
Meritorious Service Medal (2)
Army Commendation Medal (2)
Other workDefense Advisory Committee
General Clarke speaks at her retirement ceremony, WAC Center, Fort McClellan.
Assistant Secretary of the Army (Manpower and Reserve Affairs) Harry N. Walters at retirement ceremonies for General Clarke, 31 October 1981.

Mary Elizabeth Clarke (December 3, 1924 – June 10, 2011) was a United States Army officer who was the department head of the Women's Army Corps. She became major general in the United States Army and was the first woman to obtain this rank. She served in the United States Army for thirty six years, the longest ever served for a woman in the United States Army. In 1978 Norwich University awarded her an honorary doctorate in military science.[1] She retired in 1981 and was on the Women in the Services Defense Advisory Committee.

Early life and schooling[edit]

Clarke was born on December 3, 1924, in Rochester, New York.[2] She attended the Rochester Immaculate Conception School and the Rochester West High School. She was given the nickname of Betty when in her twenties.[3]


Clarke's first job was as a secretary and later as a defense worker.[4] When she was twenty one years old she enlisted at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, in the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in August 1945, just before World War II ended.[5] She thought she was only going to serve until the end of the war.[6] She was commissioned into the WAC Officer Candidate Course and a commander from an all-male regiment thought it was inconceivable she would even get through the basic training.[6] Clarke made it through the initial training and decided to remain in the army. She served in the enlisted ranks for an additional four years.[6][7] Clarke did her training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School located in Iowa. Upon completion she was then assigned as a supply sergeant at Camp Stoneman, California. In 1948 she was given orders to go to Berlin, Germany. There she was with the Berlin Brigade in the middle of the Berlin Airlift crisis.[3]

Clarke's next assignments were at the United States Army Chemical Center and Valley Forge General Hospital. Clarke then did recruitment duty for a year. She attended the WAC Officer Candidate School at Camp Lee and after the schooling in September 1949 she became a WAC commissioned officer as a second lieutenant.[4] Then she went to Tokyo to become a commanding officer at a WAC unit and was there for two years before leaving to go to the United States. She held officer's positions in Texas, Alabama, Maryland, California and Washington, D.C. from 1958 through 1971.[3]

Clarke was given duties at the Office of Equal Opportunity and Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel in Washington, D.C. and did WAC consulting in preparation of historical books.[8] She reached the rank of colonel in 1972 and became the commander of the United States WAC Center and School in Fort McClellan.[4] Clarke became the department director of the WAC Advisory Office in 1974. In 1975 she became brigadier general and the leader of the WAC. She had special training at the United States Military Academy Preparatory School in 1976 to have women qualify to attend military academies, since it was then allowed for women to attend these academies which came about through a federal directive of President Gerald Ford.[9]

Clarke was at the WAC from 1975 to 1978 as the last executive, as it was dissolved at the end of her administration.[10][11] After this assignment she was given the rank of a two-star general and promoted to major general in November 1978. She then immediately became commander of the United States Army Military Police School and Training Center. During her tenure, in 1979 she oversaw the return of the United States Army Chemical School from the Aberdeen Proving Ground near Edgewood, Maryland to its former home at Fort McClellan by the city of Anniston, Alabama.[12][13] Now with three major missions, a basic Training Brigade, the Army Military Police School and the Army Chemical School, she became commander of the United States Army Military Police and Chemical Schools, Training Center, Fort McClellan, Alabama.[1][7][14] It was the first time a woman commanded a major military installation.[15][16] Clarke was the first woman to achieve the class of major general in the United States Army in 1978.[17][18] In 1980 she was the first woman to complete 35 years of continuous active military service in the United States.[13] She served in the army for a total thirty six years, retiring in 1981.[6][7] This is the longest service ever served for a woman.[1][19]

Later life and death[edit]

Clarke in 1980 was in charge of human resources for the Deputy Chief of Staff in Washington, D.C. and was there until she went into retirement in 1981.[20] In 1984 she was appointed by the Secretary of Defense to Women in the Services Defense Advisory Committee. She was elevated to Vice Chair in 1986. In 1989 she became a member, later Chair, of the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. In 1992, she was a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.[21] Clarke died June 10, 2011, in San Antonio, Texas and is buried at the Ft Sam Houston National Cemetery in Bexar County, Texas.[4][22]

Award and decorations[edit]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
1st Row Legion of Merit[17]
2nd Row Meritorious Service Medal with oak leaf cluster Army Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster Good Conduct Medal[17]
3rd Row Women's Army Corps Service Medal American Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal[17]
4th Row Army of Occupation Medal with Berlin Airlift device and "GERMANY" clasp Medal for Humane Action National Defense Service Medal with oak leaf cluster[17]

Clarke earned the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and Meritorious Service Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster. Her uniform was exhibited in a Pentagon display commemorating vital contributions of Army women pioneers.[21]


  • Enlisted – August 10, 1945
  • Second lieutenant – September 29, 1949
  • First lieutenant – September 7, 1953
  • Captain – April 30, 1954
  • Major – October 5, 1961
  • Lieutenant colonel – November 24, 1965
  • Colonel – 1972
  • Brigadier general – 1975
  • Major general – June 1978 [7]


  1. ^ a b c Read & Witlieb 1992, p. 92.
  2. ^ Alan Morrell (December 18, 1993). "Reformers". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York – via Open access icon.
  3. ^ a b c Frank 2013, pp. 149–151.
  4. ^ a b c d "Maj. Gen. Mary E. Clarke – Extraordinary Soldier --Dies at 87". AUSA. United States Army. 2011-06-14. Archived from the original on 9 January 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2014.
  5. ^ Frank 2013, p. 149.
  6. ^ a b c d Read & Witlieb 1992, p. 93.
  7. ^ a b c d Baron 1998, p. 67.
  8. ^ Morden 1990, pp. ix–xi.
  9. ^ "Clarke, Mary, MG". TWS. United States Army. 2011. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  10. ^ "Fort commander to make history Wednesday". The Anniston Star. Anniston, Alabama. October 31, 1978 – via Open access icon.
  11. ^ Vicki Kemper (August 23, 1981). "Gen. Clarke tough - but also a lady". Chicago Tribune. Chicago, Illinois – via Open access icon.
  12. ^ "Ceremonies to mark chemical school return". The Anniston Star. Anniston, Alabama. December 11, 1979 – via Open access icon.
  13. ^ a b Barry Bryant (May 17, 1980). "Clarke to step down at fort". The Anniston Star. Anniston, Alabama – via Open access icon.
  14. ^ Frank 2013, p. 150.
  15. ^ Randy Henderson (April 28, 1978). "Clarke to command fort". The Anniston Star. Anniston, Alabama – via Open access icon.
  16. ^ Jill A. Zelickson (November 11, 1993). "Vets honor ex-Rochesterian". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester, New York – via Open access icon.
  17. ^ a b c d e US Army 1995, p. 9.
  18. ^ Franck & Brownstone 1995, p. 540.
  19. ^ "Thirty Five Years of Service - Making a Difference". The Flagpole / The Newsletter of the U.S. Army Women's Foundation: 1. 2003.
  20. ^ David H. Morrissey (November 1, 1981). "Gen. Clarke ends 36 years of soldiering". The Anniston Star. Anniston,Alabama – via Open access icon.
  21. ^ a b "Clarke, Major General Mary E., U.S. Army (retired)". Democrat and Chronicle. Rochester,New York. June 19, 2011 – via Open access icon.
  22. ^ "Mary E. Clarke". The Anniston Star. Anniston,Alabama. June 19, 2011 – via Open access icon.