Sunday Salute ~ The First Woman Soldier I Have Found In My Family

Ada Millburn Divine PhotoI feel very honored to be able to write this blog about my maternal 3rd cousin, Ada Milburn Divine. Since I started this weekly blog I always thought it would be great to find a female who served in the Military, but after months of searching I almost gave up. I do have a habit of searching my paternal line first, then my maternal one is always an after-thought. I am so glad I strayed from the norm!

Ada Milburn Divine was born on January 6, 1909, in Johnson City, Washington InkedYearbook Ada Divine_LICounty, Tennessee. She was the second of three daughters born to Paul Eaves (1871-1935) and Lula nee Milburn (1881-1955) Divine. Growing up, Ada was known as “Sis”. She had many interests while attending school. She was an accomplished artist (painting) and writer. After graduating High School she attended East Tennessee State Teacher’s College in 1927, where she was a member of the Pi Sigma Literary Society. She attended college for 4 years graduating with a degree in science in 1931. She taught school in Johnson City for a few years, then she moved to New York City to pursue her painting career.

Here she met Reginald Randall (1901-1938) and they got married on January 22, 1937, in Manhattan. Reggie was a veteran of WWI and he had been deeply affected by what had happened during his time overseas, and the things he saw and did in combat. He and his bride moved to Johnson City to be near Ada’s family. However, the move did not keep the memories away. On July 21, 1938, Reggie died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest. This impacted Ada so much that she never remarried, nor had any children. For some unknown reason, she began to go by her middle name Milburn, and people called her “Millie”.

Ada Millburn Divine WWII PhotoMillie began working as a purchasing agent and buyer for the N.E.C.Company. In the 1940 census, we find her living with her mother Lula, and both women are listed as widowed. When WWII started on December 8, 1941, Millie wanted to join the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp but she discovered that all the women did was paperwork, laundry for the troops, and miscellaneous cleaning. This didn’t appeal to a college graduate with a degree. In July 1943 the organization was renamed the Women’s Army Corps when it was authorized as a branch of the US Army rather than an auxiliary group. The WAC’s received the same rank insignia and pay as men later that September and received the same pay allowances and deductions as men in late October. They were also the first women officers in the army allowed to wear an officer’s insignia. Millie enlisted in the WAC’s on November 13,1943.

Although women were prohibited from being in combat zones, some women who WAC_Air_Controller_by_Dan_V._Smithshowed a good knowledge of the technical field could be sent to England to help assist the troop in a non-combat fashion. Because of her degree in science, Millie was trained as one of the first women air traffic controllers. She spent the next two years in England directing the pilots as they flew their missions.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn November 13,1945, Millie returned home to Johnson City. She began painting again and teaching art to the local children. However, she missed the control tower. In 1944, she started working as an air traffic controller at the Nashville International Airport, She continued working there until she retired in 1970. Ada “Millie” Divine Randall died on February 4, 2001, in Johnson City, and she is buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, located in Greenville, Greene County Tennessee.


I am a professional genealogist, writer, photographer, wife, mother, and grandma. I have two books available on Your Family History: Doing It Right the First Time and Planning Your Genealogy Research Trip. You can also connect with me via Facebook or Twitter.