WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy joins the nation in celebrating Women's History Month throughout the month of March as announced in NAVADMIN 051/12, Feb. 9.
Navy commands are encouraged to reflect on the national 2012 theme, "Women's Education - Women's Empowerment" to increase their knowledge and awareness of the contributions women have made both to U.S. history and to the Navy.
Women have served with great honor and valor in defense of our nation since the Revolutionary War. However, women did not become an official part of the service until 1908, when Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps. The first 20 nurses, called the "Sacred Twenty" broke the barriers that eventually paved the way for all women to officially enter naval service.
Nurses remained the only women serving in the Navy until World War I, when the Navy's first enlisted women, known as Yeomanettes, provided clerical support.
In 1942, the Navy launched the Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) program, allowing women to serve outside the secretarial realm in an official uniform capacity. During World War II, more than 85,000 women served as WAVES air traffic controllers, artists, bakers, couriers, cryptologists, draftsmen, hospital corpsmen, lawyers, meteorologists, and translators at naval shore commands across the nation and overseas. Eighty-one nurses were taken prisoner by the Japanese in Guam and the Republic of the Philippines during World War II.
Six years later, congressional leaders recognized the need for women in peacetime armed forces with the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act of 1948. Opportunities for women in the Navy expanded during the Cold War era, and in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Public Law 90-130, allowing women the opportunity for promotion to admiral or general.
In 1974, Alene Duerke, director of the Navy Nurse Corps, became the first female appointed to the rank of rear admiral. Two years later, Fran McKee became the first female line officer to make flag rank.
Women continued to make great strides with President Gerald Ford signing Public Law 94-106, which required service academies to admit women by the fall of 1976. With the doors of educational excellence finally open to women, 81 women entered the U.S. Naval Academy's Class of 1980.
By the 1980s, women had reached impressive heights within the Navy. Promotion boards began selecting women for flag rank, including Roberta L. Hazard. She was selected for promotion to rear admiral upper half May 18, 1988, the first woman to be board selected for that grade.
The 1990s ushered in a new era for women serving in the armed forces. During the first Gulf War, women constituted fifteen percent of the naval personnel fighting force in Iraq and Kuwait. In 1994, the repeal of the Combat Exclusion Law allowed women to serve on combatant ships for the first time. Cmdr. Maureen A. Farren became the first woman to command a combatant ship June 10, 1998, when she took command of USS Mount Vernon, an amphibious dock landing ship.
In April 2010 the Navy instituted a landmark change in policy, allowing women to serve on submarines for the first time. The first group of female submariners completed nuclear power school and officially reported on board two ballistic and two guided missile submarines in November 2011.
Women continue to make history in the Navy. Guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, led by Cmdr. Jennifer Ellinger, responded to a distress call from the master of the Iranian-flagged fishing dhow Al Molai, Jan. 5, who claimed he was being held captive by pirates. Within 24 hours, Kidd assisted in freeing 13 Iranian fishermen and taking into custody 15 pirates.
Today, nearly every naval community is open to women and female Sailors continue to excel in almost all facets of naval duties both ashore and afloat. More than 54,000 active duty women and more than 10,000 female Reservists are serving in the Navy, comprising 17.1 percent of the force. The current Navy Total Force includes 34 active and Reserve female flag officers and 59 female command master chiefs. Vice Adm. Ann E. Rondeau, current president of National Defense University, remains the most senior three-star admiral in the Navy.
Commands are strongly encouraged to increase their knowledge and awareness of the contributions of women to the Navy and nation by celebrating Women's History Month through programs, exhibits, publications, and participation in military and community events.
For more information on the history of women and their numerous contributions to the Navy, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/organization/bupers/womenspolicy/pages/womenshistorymonth.aspx and http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20highlights/women/women-index.htm.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Office of Diversity and Inclusion, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp-diversity/.