Elna Jane Hilliard Grahn (1913-2006)

elna grahn

Elna Jane Hilliard was born to Charles and Anna Hilliard on November 15, 1913 in Baraboo, Wisconsin. During the Second World War, she served in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and later the Women's Army Corps (WAC). In the WAAC, she headed up a secret Army experiment to determine how women could be used as members of anti-aircraft batteries. She later learned that this experiment had been proposed by General George Marshal. She was the first woman to serve on an Army General Court Martial, and she commanded the 2525th WAC unit in Fort Myer, VA. She was eventually promoted to Major and awarded the Army Commendation Medal at the war’s end.

Hilliard embarked on a teaching career in mathematics after World War II that spanned nearly three decades and three different levels of education, culminating in a teaching position at the University of Idaho. She began working toward a doctorate in Higher Education at Stanford University in 1949, returning to Idaho in 1950. Soon after, she married fellow faculty member Edgar Grahn in 1950, and she eventually retired Professor Emerita from the University of Idaho in 1969.

Upon her retirement from the University, Grahn published a book detailing her life during World War II entitled In the Company of WACs. Throughout her life, she was an active member of many organizations that advance women's causes, including the Idaho Commission of Women's Programs, the Moscow League of Women Voters (of which she served as President), and the American Association of University Women.

Elna Jane Hilliard Grahn died on August 3, 2006 and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. She had been a charter member of the National Women's History Museum since 2002, and she generously provided for the NWHM in her will. Her generosity is an extension of a life that was devoted to teaching, community, and country.


Additional Sources:


  • Grahn, Elna Hilliard. In the Company of WACs. 1993.

Works Cited:

  • Elna Hilliard Grahn Obituary as provided by her nephew, Robert W. Hilliard, on 4 January 2007
  • “Honoring Elna Grahn.” NWHM Newsletter: A Different Point of View. Vol. 9, Issue1. Winter 2007.

  • PHOTO: Grahn, Elna Hilliard. In the Company of WACs. 1993. (photo by Shelley Hanks)