75 Years of Navy Women:
17 Things You Should Know About the WAVES
Early in World War II, confronting enemies on two fronts, the U.S. military faced a serious manpower shortage. It turned, somewhat reluctantly, to women. As yeoman (F) in the Navy during World War I, women had already proved themselves capable of taking over support and administrative jobs, thereby freeing men for combat.
1. On July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689, establishing a women's branch of the Naval Reserve, also called the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service program - universally known as the WAVES.
2. Future Lt. Elizabeth Reynard, a professor at Barnard College in New York who served as an advisor for the development of the Women's Reserve, coined the WAVES acronym on a train trip from Washington to New York. She knew it needed to include 'W' for women and 'V' for voluntary to emphasize that women would be choosing to serve.
3. More than 80,000 women joined the WAVES during World War II, freeing thousands of male Sailors for combat. They filled hundreds of ratings and billets in fields such as intelligence, supply, clerical work, stenography, air traffic control, truck driving, mechanics, parachute rigging, meteorology and physiotherapy. They served as laboratory technicians, X-ray technicians, decoders, interpreters and cooks. Many WAVES also became instructors, in navigation and aviation gunnery, for example, teaching male Sailors how to do their jobs.
4. Lieutenant Cmdr. Mildred H. McAfee, the president of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, became the first woman to be commissioned into the U.S. Navy in 1942. Soon promoted to captain, she served as the first director of the WAVES.
5. Robert Main Boucher of the Mainbocher fashion house in New York designed the WAVES' uniforms at no cost to the U.S. government. Women found the dress uniforms rather glamorous, with some recruits saying they chose the Navy instead of the Army specifically because of the uniform. The current women's naval uniform is still based on the Mainbocher designs.