NAVY CELEBRATES 100 Years of WOMEN AT SEA

By Lantron, Michael A. | Sea Classics, June 2008 | Go to article overview

NAVY CELEBRATES 100 Years of WOMEN AT SEA


Lantron, Michael A., Sea Classics


Although women had served the Navy since the Revolutionary War, 1908 saw the formal introduction of the Navy Nurse Corps

Throughout March 2008, Sailors celebrated the many contributions of women to our Navy and nation during the 21st annual observance of Women's History Month.

Women have been officially serving as an integral part of the Navy since the establishment of the Nurse Corps in 1908.

Nine-years later, when America declared war on Germany in 1917, the Navy authorized the enlistment of women as "Yeomanettes" who primarily performed clerical and administrative functions. The Yeomanettes were disbanded with the cessation of hostilities. Meanwhile, the Navy Nurse Corps continued to function as part of the US Medical Corps.

In 1919, a small group of women served with the United States Navy as nurses, answering to male officers. Twenty-three-years later, in early August 1942, female officer Naval Reserve L/Cmdr. Mildred McAfee was commissioned into the US Navy amidst World War II to head up the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program (WAVES). The use of the word "emergency," however, signified that the US Navy's top brass thought female service would cease when the emergency, or the war, came to and end. The reason for that was due to political resistance from many who did not believe women had a place in the US Navy, and for the program to take place, creative intrigue had to be used. A major force advocating women's place in the US military was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Despite the resistance from conservative officers, however, the demand was clearly there; for example, as early as January 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence was recruiting female college students. Even as President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Navy Women's Reserve Act into law on 30 July 1942, few could predict that female service in the US Navy would become something that would last far beyond the "emergency."

By mid-1943, 27,000 American women served in the WAVES program. While their WWI counterparts served only as nurses and secretaries, these WWII-era women took up far more responsibilities. Secretarial and clerical jobs still made up a large portion of WAVES positions, but thousands of WAVES personnel performed other jobs such as aviation mechanics, photographers, control tower operators, and intelligence personnel. In late 1944, the WAVES program began accepting African American women at the ratio of one black woman for every 36 white women enlisted in the WAVES program. By the end of the war, over 84,000 women served in WAVES with 8000 female officers, which constituted 2.5-percent of the US Navy's personnel strength. …

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NAVY CELEBRATES 100 Years of WOMEN AT SEA
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