Celebrating Women's History of Equality in the Navy


Story Number: NNS130826-14Release Date: 8/26/2013 10:02:00 AM
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By Chief Jessica Myers, Office of Women's Policy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Commands are encouraged to celebrate women's history of equality in the Navy during Women's Equality Day Aug. 26, as announced by Naval Administrative Message 209/13.

This annual observance celebrates the contributions women have made throughout history working toward full equality in the United States.

Women's Equality Day was established by Congress in 1971 to commemorate the long struggle of generations of women to gain the right to vote. According to the National Women's History Project, while originally created to commemorate the passing of the 19th Amendment, the observance today recognizes the anniversary of women's suffrage and of the continued efforts toward equality.

When the United States was founded, female citizens were denied basic rights as compared to the nation's male citizens. Married women could not own property, women had no legal claim to any money they might earn, and women did not have the right to vote. It was not until 1848 that the movement for women's rights was launched on a national level with a convention in Seneca Falls, New York. Before narrowing their political focus to women's rights, abolitionists Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, known as "suffragists," along with Susan B. Anthony and other activists, formed organizations that raised public awareness and lobbied the government to grant voting rights to women. Fighting for the right to vote became a centerpiece of the women's rights movement.

Women's official role in the Navy began in 1908, with the establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps. During World War I, the Naval Reserve Act of 1916 allowed for enlistment of qualified "persons." A year later, the Navy authorized the enlistment of women, designated as "Yeoman (F)," unofficially known as "Yeomanettes." Women serving in the Navy as Nurses and Yeomanettes served their nation before they had the right to vote.

It was not until 72 years after the suffrage movement began that these groups emerged victorious with the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution on August 18, 1920. On Election Day that same year, more than 8 million women across the United States voted for the first time.

Throughout the nation this past March, hundreds of college students and generations of women celebrated the centennial of the original Women's Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C., March 3, 1913. Women who sought the right to vote dressed in Greek-style costumes or academic robes with "Votes for Women" sashes proudly displayed. Thousands of women marched from the United States Capitol down Pennsylvania Avenue to the front of the White House, the day before President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration. This event pushed women's suffrage into the national spotlight.
This year also marked the 65th Anniversary of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, signed June 12, 1948, shortly after the end of World War II. This Act provided women permanent status in the United States Armed Services, although women had been serving unofficially since the American Revolutionary War. Before the establishment of the Continental Navy, numerous women served in the states' navies, including the galleys of the Pennsylvania Navy and as nurses in the Maryland Navy, laying the foundation for women's service onboard ships during the Civil War and the Spanish-American War.

As women's roles in in the Navy continued to develop during the latter part of the 20th century, so did their progress toward equality. In 1973, the Navy authorized aviation training for women. It was also this same year that the Supreme Court ruled that inequities in benefits for the dependents of military women were unconstitutional, abolishing pregnancy as a reason for mandatory separation. Before 1973, military women with dependents were not authorized housing, and their dependents were ineligible for the benefits and privileges afforded the dependents of male military members, such as medical, commissary and post exchange.

In 1975, Congress authorized admission of women to the military academies. Three years later, women were first assigned to supply and non-combatant ships. Women's opportunities in the Navy significantly increased in 1993 following the repeal of the combat exclusion law, which allowed officer and enlisted women to serve on combatant ships and in combat aviation. It was also during this same time period that the Navy conducted the first feasibility study on women entering submarine community. Seventeen years later, in 2010, Navy announced a policy change allowing female officers to serve on submarines.

On Jan. 24, 2013, the Secretary of Defense and Joint Chiefs of Staff announced immediate rescission of 1994 Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule. In accordance with the Secretary's guidance, Navy developed and submitted a plan to implement the rescission, through which Navy envisions no closed occupations, a very limited number of closed positions, and equal professional opportunity for females in every officer designator and enlisted rating in the Navy.

Today, over 67,000 women serve in the Navy in the active and Reserve components, comprising 18 percent of the Total Force. There are currently 38 female flag officers, two female Fleet Master Chiefs, and one female Force Master Chief in the Navy. Additionally, nearly 50,000 women serve across the Navy in a wide range of specialties as civilian employees, with 67 female senior executive service members.
All Navy commands are encouraged to reflect on and celebrate the accomplishments of women throughout the armed services during this observance.

For more information about 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/.

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