Martha Yount Caldwell—Her Own Woman

By Marjory J. Sente

Martha Yount, 1945

Martha Rebecca Yount, an independent spirit as a youth, became a trail blazer for other women. The daughter of Dr. Clarence and Clara Criley Yount, she was born in Prescott on June 7, 1912 during the first months of Arizona’s statehood.

At an early age, Martha was smitten with horses and became an outstanding equestrian. At the University of Arizona, she joined the Desert Riders, an honorary riding society that rode in parades and competed in horse shows in Tucson and Phoenix. Specializing in English style, Martha rode for local roundups. Cowboys teased her but respected her riding expertise.   

After graduating in 1936, she taught school for three years and said her year teaching at the Peeples Valley one-room school (1936-37) was the most educational of her life. She lived in an attached teacherage; for heat her mother sent coal down on the bus each week.    

On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, Martha recalled, “I went down to the post office and scared the recruiter to death because I told him I wanted to join up. He said, ‘But lady, we don’t have anything.’ Well, you’d better get something,’ I replied.”

Fort DeMoines, Iowa, in the 1940s

Congress established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) on May 14, 1942. By that December, Martha had enlisted in the Corps. According to the December 28, 1942 Prescott Evening Courier, she continued a family tradition. Her father C.E., in the Army Reserves, had served in France during WWI, and brothers Ned and Robert were on active duty.

She was ordered to Fort Des Moines, Iowa, for four weeks of basic training. “I did my basic from a dirty old residential hotel downtown. After basic, I was moved out to the main post.” She was selected for eight weeks of Officer Candidate School (OCS). “We were so new, I think we were Class 17.”

Martha said the locals treated the WAACs deplorably. So after graduating OCS as a Third Officer (equivalent to a Second Lieutenant), she was happy to go to Fort Devens near Boston. As a transportation officer she accompanied ambulances into Boston to pick up wounded soldiers. She provided moral support for her young drivers as well as first aid to their passengers.  She previously taught first aid and established numerous first aid stations around Yavapai County.   

Subsequent assignments included Daytona Beach, FL, Fort Oglethorpe, GA, and Fort Monmouth, NJ. At Monmouth, she worked for two and a half years as an assistant adjutant assigned to a summary courts officer. Martha also worked as a “carrier pigeon” transporting classified documents from the fort to Washington, D.C.

Postcard of WAACs marching in uniform
Postcard view of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) at Fort Des Moines, Iowa, 1940s

During the war, she met Millard “Skinny” Caldwell. They married on May 10, 1946, Martha said “between troop trains” but did have a four-day honeymoon. She retired from the Army with the rank of captain. He stayed in uniform and was assigned to fly “The Hump” in the China-Burma-India conflict. Unfortunately, his plane was downed and Skinny was taken prisoner. He died in a prison camp without ever meeting his son Martin. Martha returned to Prescott with Martin and raised him here.

In 1952 she became the first uniformed police woman on the Prescott police force. She left after three years because she grew tired of menial assignments like crossing guard, prisoner escort and meter maid and figured she could put four years of college to better use.

Martha returned to teaching and taught fourth grade at Lincoln Elementary for 22 years, retiring in 1977. In retirement she was active in the Prescott Corral of Westerners International and honored by that organization with a lifetime membership in 1993.  She passed away in 2001.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1. The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to dayspast@sharlothallmuseum.org. Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at archivesrequest@sharlothallmuseum.org for information or assistance with photo requests.

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