‘A wonderful experience’ - Nancy Northway helped pave the way for women serving in the National Guard
Nancy Northway is a woman with an interesting and unique military background spanning many fascinating historical experiences. Completing service with the National Guard in both Missouri and Indiana, she began her career in the enlisted ranks and eventually retired as a warrant officer while also making the transition from the Women’s Army Corps to the full status of U.S. Army soldier.
Born and raised in Beloit, Wisconsin, Northway graduated high school in 1953. The following year, she was married and made the move to Jefferson City, where her husband was employed as a mechanic at a Ford dealership.
“The year after I was married, I had my first son, Jerry,” she recalled. “Three years later, our second son, Tom,” was born. Several years later, I was able to get a job with the state working at the Missouri National Guard Headquarters,” she added.
Employed as a secretary in the office Colonel Kirby Goldblum, who was an assistant to the adjutant general, Northway was encouraged to apply for a new program that afforded women the opportunity to enlist in the National Guard prior to their 39th birthday.
“I was getting ready to turn 39 at the time, so I decided to go ahead and enlist while I still qualified,” she said. “My official enlistment date was July 23, 1974, and there were only three of us who enlisted before the program closed a few weeks later.
The three enlistees were classified as members of the Women’s Army Corps—the women’s branch of the U.S. Army. They traveled to Ft. McClellan, Alabama, which had been established as the permanent home for the WACs, and completed two weeks of basic training.
“They taught us a little bit of everything while we were there,” Northway said. “We were fitted for our uniforms, learned military customs, did physical fitness training … all of the things that soldiers do,” she said.
Shortly after returning to Missouri, the women were moved from the WACs and became soldiers in the Missouri National Guard. She continued her secretarial work in the state side of her employment, but during her drill weekends and annual training periods, she performed an entirely different duty that was both interesting and engaging.
“I was assigned to work with a warrant officer whose job it was to pay the soldiers completing their annual training,” she said. “We traveled to Camp Clark and paid all of the soldiers in cash, and I thought that was really neat. That experience made me want to become a warrant officer someday.”
The colonel for whom she worked full-time encouraged her to consider joining the Missouri National Guard rifle team. She soon became the first woman to do so, participating in competitions in Ohio and Arkansas.
Northway and her husband later divorced and, in the fall of 1976, she made the decision to move to Indiana after she got a job with the Indiana National Guard. At first, she worked in a finance position and then transferred to personnel, serving as a unit administrative clerk. Having achieved the rank of sergeant first class, a warrant officer vacancy came available and she decided to apply. She was accepted for the position in 1984.
“After I became a warrant officer, the colonels and general I worked with addressed me as ‘Mr. Northway,’” she said. “The regulations at the time said that warrant officers were to be addressed as ‘Mister,’ and since females were new to the warrant program, it took them some time to change that.” Smiling, she added, “That’s all the funniness that happens in this kind of situation.”
Her new responsibilities as a warrant officer began with her active-duty appointment as a property book officer with the headquarters for the Indiana National Guard followed by assignment to the 38th Infantry Division.
“I had become a chief warrant officer three and was due for promotion to chief warrant officer four,” she recalled. “But at that time, you could only stay until age 60 and had to be able to complete one year as a chief warrant officer four to qualify for promotion, which I wasn’t going to be able to do.”
Retiring on September 30, 1996, Northway spent the next couple of years traveling. Then, having amassed an impressive assortment of antiques and other historical collectibles throughout the years, she and a partner opened the Yellow Moon Antique Mall in Mooresville, Indiana. Several years ago, her youngest son encouraged her to return to the Jefferson City area since she had no relatives living in Indiana. In 2013, Northway sold her half-interest in the antique mall in Indiana and moved back to Missouri.
“My son had built an antique mall in Jefferson City and we got permission for him to name it Yellow Moon Antique Mall,” she said. “Now there’s a Yellow Moon in Jefferson City and one in Mooresville, Indiana. My oldest son, Jerry, lives in southern Alabama and teaches avionics,” the proud mother added.
In her retirement, she enjoys leveraging her knowledge and experience in the antiques and collectible field by assisting her son, Tom, at his business in Jefferson City. Her career in the military, she explained, has provided many opportunities to be part of some historical changes while also serving as a mentor to others.
“I had such a darn good time in the service and enjoyed being able to help teach several women to become good soldiers,” she said. “Also, I got to work with everyone from the lowest private to the highest general during my time as one of the first female warrant officers. It was all just a good experience that I will never forget.”
Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America.
Jeremy P. Amick is a military historian and author dedicated to preserving our nation's military legacies.