By Louisa Talucci Iacurci
In 1968, Ruth A. Lucas became the first African American woman in the air force to attain the rank of colonel. Lucas was a fierce proponent of literacy programs and education in the military and the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame inducted her in 2017.
Love of Learning
Ruth Lucas was born in Stamford, Connecticut, on November 28, 1920. While attending Stamford High School, Lucas shared her love of learning with other students as a volunteer tutor. She continued tutoring in college at the Tuskegee Institute and graduated in 1942 with a degree in education. In July of 1942, during the middle of World War II, Lucas joined the newly formed Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. As one of only 40 African American women in her class, Lucas graduated from Officer Candidate School and became a WAC Squadron Commander of the 463rd AF Base Unit. After the National Security Act of 1947 made the air force a separate military service, Lucas attended Air Force Officer Training School in 1948 and Air Tactical School in 1950.
After finishing her training, the air force stationed Lucas in Tokyo, Japan from 1951-1954 as the Chief of The Awards Division. Always a promoter of education, Lucas volunteered to teach English to Japanese students. In 1952, the air force awarded Lucas the Bronze Star for her performance of duty while in Japan and promoted her to major in 1956, after she returned to the states. While stationed at Mitchel Air Force Base in New York, Lucas received a master’s degree in educational psychology from Columbia University.
Literacy Programs and Education Proponent
Lucas transferred to Washington, D.C. and spent the 1960s setting up literacy programs for servicemen. At the time, there was a great need for additional education programs—approximately 45,000 servicemen read below a fifth-grade level. By the late 1960s, Lucas became the Assistant for General Education and Counseling Services at the Pentagon and attained the rank of colonel in 1968.
In 1970, Lucas retired from the air force with eight medals and awards for her service. After her retirement from the armed forces, she continued to promote education as the Director of Urban Services at Washington Technical Institute, where she eventually became the Dean of Physical Science, Engineering & Technology. She was also active with the Washington Urban League and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Lucas passed away in 2013 and is buried in Arlington Cemetery. Her love of learning led her to become a proponent for education. Her strong conviction influenced and encouraged countless servicemen and women to continue their education and improve their literacy as part of their military training. This promotion of literacy and education is the legacy that Colonel Lucas will be remembered for—she was truly a “first” in her field.
Louisa Talucci Iacurci has a Master’s in Education from American University and has been teaching students age five through adults for 28 years. Louisa is an Education Program Associate at the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame. This article is the result of a collaboration between the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame and Connecticut Humanities and is based on original research conducted by the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame.