Lieutenant Colonel Charity Edna Adams Earley was the first African American woman officer of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. She served as the commanding officer of the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, making her the highest-ranking Black female officer in the Army, during World War II. Adams was born in Kittrell, North Carolina on December 5, 1918, but grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. Her father, Eugene, was an Episcopal Minister, and her mother, Charity, was a schoolteacher.
Adams was an intellectually gifted child, and started elementary school as a second grader. She graduated as valedictorian from Booker T. Washington High School in 1934, and was accepted into Wilberforce University in Ohio. Adams majored in Mathematics, Physics, and Latin, and minored in History. She became a member of the NAACP, the Women’s self-government association, and Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Adams graduated with her BA in Arts in 1938, and returned to Columbia to become a math and science teacher at a local junior high school.
In 1942, Adams was encouraged to apply for a position in the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, and she applied in June. Adams was on a bus to attend summer classes at Ohio State University when the bus was stopped, and she received orders to report to duty. In July, Adams was one of 39 candidates accepted into the first officer training class for Black women, arrived at training school at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, the facility that was the site for officer training for the first Black men in World War I. She was commissioned on August 29, 1942 and remained to help train other Black women as officers. In September 1943 she was promoted to the rank of Major, making her the highest-ranking black female officer at the facility.
In 1944, Adams was selected to serve as commanding officer to the first and only battalion of black Women’s Army Corps to serve overseas, the 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion. Stationed in Birmingham, England, Adams was responsible for 850 personnel who were assigned to sort and deliver mail to over 7 million troops stationed throughout the European Theater. Adams’ unit was given six months to complete the task, but with a strict shift schedule, the unit completed the assignment in just three months. By the end of the war in 1945, Adams was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, making her the highest-ranking black woman in the military at the time of her retirement.
Adams earned her MA in Psychology from Ohio State University in 1946 and then later briefly worked at the Pentagon. She later worked for the Ohio Veterans Administration then lived in Nashville, Tennessee while serving as the Director of student personnel at Tennessee A&I College, before she moved to Georgia to teach at Georgia State College.
Adams married Stanley A. Earley Jr in 1949, and the couple moved to Switzerland while he completed medical school. The couple returned to the U.S. in 1952, and settled in Dayton, Ohio. She was awarded honorary doctorates from Wilberforce University and the University of Dayton in 1991. Charity Adams Earley died at the age of 83 in Dayton, Ohio, on January 13, 2002. She is survived by her two children, Stanley III and Judith.