WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Commands are encouraged to celebrate Women's Equality Day Aug. 26, as announced by NAVADMIN 251/12.
Established by Congress in 1971, Women's Equality Day was designed to commemorate the long struggle of generations of women to gain the right to vote.
The observance also calls attention to women's continuing efforts today towards full equality.
The women's suffrage movement began in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Convened by suffragist leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, the committee published a "Declaration of Sentiments." The declaration outlined key social, civil and political demands for women, helping the cause of women's suffrage gain national prominence. Nearly 72 years later, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution was passed Aug. 26, 1920, granting women throughout the United States the right to vote.
In 1971, to honor and commemorate the passing of the 19th Amendment, U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug introduced a resolution to designate Aug. 26 as the annual Women's Equality Day. Today, the observance recognizes the anniversary of women's suffrage and of the continued efforts toward equal rights in the United States.
All Navy commands are encouraged to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments of women in the armed services during this observance.
Women first entered Naval service in 1908 with the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps, 12 years before women were granted the right to vote. Women continued to serve in the Navy in varying capacities throughout World War I and World War II, but it was not until June 12, 1948, with the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act that women gained permanent status in the U.S. armed services. The first six enlisted women were sworn into regular U.S. Navy service July 7, 1948. Four months later the first eight female Naval officers were commissioned Oct. 15, 1948.
Women were first assigned to selected non-combatant ships in 1978, and opportunities were later broadened to include service on warships in 1994 following the repeal of the combat exclusion law. In April 2010, the Navy announced a policy change allowing female officers to serve on submarines. Today, 95 percent of Navy billets are open to the assignment of women.
This year has been a landmark year for women in the Navy. The year kicked off with five women making naval history as the first all-female E-2C Hawkeye crew to fly a combat mission. Plane Commander Lt. Cmdr. Tara Refo, Mission Commander Lt. Cmdr. Brandy Jackson, Second Pilot Lt. Ashley Ruic, Air Control Officer Lt. Nydia Driver, and Radar Operator Lt. j.g. Ashley Ellison were assigned to Airborne Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 125, embarked aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) as part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 17 when they made their historic flight Jan. 25.
Two days later, the Navy honored the passing of the fleet's first female aircraft handling officer, Lt. Cmdr. Regina Mills, during a ceremony Jan. 27 in Bremerton, Wash. More than 2,000 family members, friends, and shipmates assembled aboard the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN 68) to pay respect to Mills, who was struck and killed by a vehicle when she stopped to assist others involved in a traffic collision in Gig Harbor, Wash., Jan. 23.
In April, the Navy bid fair winds and following seas to one of the original female surface warfare trailblazers, Vice Adm. Ann Rondeau. Rondeau holds the distinction of serving as the first warfare qualified female admiral and, prior to her retirement, was the highest ranking female flag officer in the Navy. She retired after 38 years of dedicated naval service.
Later that month, Rear Adm. Michelle Howard was nominated for appointment to the rank of Vice Admiral April 16. If confirmed, Howard would become the first female African American three star admiral. In July, Vice Adm. Nanette DeRenzi was assigned as Judge Advocate General of the Navy. De Renzi is the highest ranking female in the Judge Advocate General Corps, and is the first woman to hold the Judge Advocate General Corps' most senior position. Vice Adm. Robin Braun, the highest ranking female aviator in the Navy, became chief of the Navy Reserve Aug. 13, and is the first woman to hold the post.
There are currently 35 female flag officers in the Navy; 21 represent the active duty component, and 14 represent the Reserve component.
Enlisted women also made notable accomplishments during 2012. In May, Command Master Chief (AW/SW) JoAnn M. Ortloff became Fleet Master Chief for Commander, Naval Forces Europe and Africa. Upon her selection, Ortloff became the highest ranking enlisted woman in the Navy, and only the second woman to reach the position of fleet master chief.
Command Master Chief (AW/SW) April Beldo continued her tradition of breaking barriers for women when she assumed her new position as force master chief of Naval Education and Training Command (NETC), the first African American woman to do so. Beldo arrived at NETC in April after serving aboard USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), where she held the title of the first female African American command master chief of a nuclear aircraft carrier. She is currently the only woman serving as a force master chief in the Navy.
Policy changes affecting women serving in the Navy also took shape in 2012. The Department of Defense announced changes to the 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule Feb. 9. The changes were implemented in May, opening an additional 14,325 positions throughout the Department of Defense previously closed to women.
Today, 54,537 women serve in the Navy on active duty or in the Reserve, comprising 17 percent of the force. Additionally, nearly 50,000 women serve across the Navy in a wide range of specialties as civilian employees.
For more information on women in the Navy, visit http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/organization/bupers/WomensPolicy/Pages/default.aspx.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Diversity and Inclusion, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp-diversity/.