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Maritime History: It’s Still Happening!

THIS…is old news. Detail from Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Library and Archives at The Mariners’ Museum and Park, G1015.O77 1592 Rare OO)

I don’t have a dense blog post for you today. Instead, I would like to share with you something that made me pause as a maritime historian.

It’s the 21st Century. You’d think maritime history doesn’t have much in terms of new frontiers left to it. The oceans have been traversed, rivers sourced, and the globe circumnavigated many, many times. Even the depths of the oceans have been plumbed.

It is a rare treat, however, when HISTORY HAPPENS!

On July 31, 2020, Lt. j. g. Madeline Swegle was designated a naval aviator upon completion of her training at Naval Air Station, Kingsville, Texas. This made Swegle, a Naval Academy graduate and Virginia native, the first female African-American tactical air pilot in the US Navy.

U.S. Navy photo 200707-N-N0436-1027 by Lt.j.g. Luke Redito/Released

Events like this are what we in the history field call “screamingly cool.” Why? It hasn’t happened before. It’s something that Lt. Swegle acknowledged herself, “It would’ve been nice to see someone who looked like me in this role; I never intended to be the first. I hope it’s encouraging to other people.”1

Swegle’s comment also reveals that female African-American pilots are few and far between, less than 2% of naval aviation in 2018.2 The first was, for the record, Lt. Commander Brenda Robinson who earned her wings in 1980 and had an impressive career with 115 carrier landings transporting people, cargo, and mail.

So, speaking as a maritime historian, I hope that Lt. Swegle has a long career full of firsts. She is MAKING HISTORY. And I want to see it.

1 Accessed August 17, 2020.

2 Accessed August 24, 2020.

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