DLH is celebrating Black History Month by honoring the legacy of African-American leaders in public health, government, and information technology. Click here to view more entries in our series.
Major Oleta Crain blazed a trail in both military- and civil-service to our nation. An Oklahoma native, Crain was inspired to join the U.S. Army after seeing a Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps poster. Out of the 300 women who entered officer training during WWII, she was one of only three African-Americans. She eventually became the commander of a company of African-American WACs.
Crain was responsible for ensuring the physical fitness of her troops during the war, but even here, Crain and her company ran into resistance due to race. Logistical impediments to their success were constant. In one notable example, leaders required a swimming pool to be drained every time black troops used the pool for exercise. This made scheduling exercise sessions impossible. Major Crain fought for better treatment. She went to see the commandant and he relented, putting an end to the practice of segregating the swimming pool.
Following tours in the U.S., England, and Germany, Oleta Crain retired from active duty military service in 1963. This distinguished military career, however, was just the start of Oleta Crain’s service to our nation. She soon rose to prominence in the Department of Labor, and eventually became regional administrator of the Women’s Bureau for Colorado, Montana, North and South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. In this role, she fought relentlessly for fair treatment of women in the workplace. Priorities included welfare reform and improved employment opportunities for women.
Learn more about the life and legacy of Oleta Crain from the Denver Post.
‘Oleta Crain,’ Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame
‘Honoring Oleta Crain, an American Hero’ by Marzy Bedford-Billinghurst