Army Post Road, Des Moines, Iowa
Clarke did her basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School in Iowa.
West Point, New York, United States
In 1976 Clarke had special courses at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School to prepare women to attend military academies since women were then allowed to attend by executive order of President Gerald Ford.
Mary attended the Rochester Immaculate Conception Grammar School and Rochester West High School. Clarke did her basic training at Fort Des Moines Provisional Army Officer Training School in Iowa. Upon completion of basic training, she was then immediately assigned to being a supply sergeant at Camp Stoneman, California.
Clarke attended the WAC Officer Candidate School and after the schooling, she became a WAC commissioned officer as a second lieutenant on September 29, 1949. In 1976 she had special courses at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School to prepare women to attend military academies since women were then allowed to attend by executive order of President Gerald Ford.
In August 1945, at age twenty, Mary Clarke entered the army and attended the last Second World War WAC (Women's Army Corps) basic training class at Fort Des Moines, Iowa. Over the next two decades, her assignments included recruiting, staff positions, and commander of the WAC Training Battalion.
In September 1972 she assumed command of the WAC Center and School at Fort McClellan, Alabama. In 1975 Clarke was selected as director of the WAC on the basis of her leadership, executive abilities, and public relations skills. She officially became a director on 1 August 1975 and was promoted to brigadier general the same day. During General Clarke's thirty-three-month tenure as WAC director, many major changes in the role of army women occurred: women were admitted to the service academies, the first women graduated from Army ROTC programs, they were required to undergo mandatory weapons training, the WAC Center and School was closed, and women began attending OCS and basic training in integrated classes with men.
General Clarke was concerned that with the end of the WAC, women would no longer have anyone to represent them or their interests. She drafted several plans to establish the position of a senior military spokeswoman to present the women's point of view on policy issues. Each plan met with great resistance within the army hierarchy, primarily because it was seen as conflicting with the army's attempt to fully integrate women.
The ceremony to disestablish the WAC was held on April 1978; the WAC was legally disestablished on 20 October 1978. General Clarke noted in her parting speech that "this action today in no way detracts from the service of WACs who have been pioneers - in fact, it honors them... The significance of the abolishment of Office of the Director ... is the Army's public commitment... to the total integration of women in the United States Army as equal partners." Clarke's next assignment was commanding general of the Military Police/Training Center of Fort McClellan, the first time a woman had been selected to command a major army post. She was promoted to major general on 1 November 1978. She commanded Fort McClellan from May 1978 to August 1980. She then served as director of the Human Resources Development Directorate in the Pentagon until her retirement on 31 October 1981. Clarke had served thirty-six years, a record for women in the army. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal at her retirement ceremony. After retiring, Clarke served on the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services (DACOWITS) and as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces in 1992.
Clarke was again in the news in 1997 when the army decided to close the WAC Museum at Fort McClellan, Alabama, along with the base itself. WAC veterans and supporters had provided half a million dollars in private contributions in the early 1970s to pay for the building the museum occupied and had donated more than 5,000 artifacts.
After Mary's retirement as the senior woman ranking officer on active duty, she was appointed by the secretary of defense to the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Service, which she eventually chaired; she chaired the Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and she was a member of the Presidential Commission on the Assignment of Women in the Armed Forces.
Mary said that she had enlisted "to do something for the war effort" and intended to serve for the duration plus six months. But when the war ended and a male commander told her that she couldn't make it through the officers' training program, she decided to stay in the army to prove him wrong.
Quotes from others about the person
"She knew how to get the best out of people. She loved it. She just really loved it." - Maida Lambeth
"She was very respected. We knew her and trusted her. She was able to interpret what was happening for the group." - Claudia Kennedy
"Clarke knew that integration was inevitable and though the WAC would be mourned, it would be a giant leap forward for women soldiers." - Helen Johnston