GW Reflects on First Enlisted Woman in the Navy

Story Number: NNS170320-13Release Date: 3/20/2017 10:27:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Julie Vujevich, USS George Washington (CVN 73) Public Affairs

NORFOLK (NNS) -- As progress continues for women in the U.S. military, Sailors aboard aircraft carrier USS George Washington (CVN 73) are reflecting on the many accomplishments and firsts for women in the U.S. Navy as an observance of Women's History Month.

It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century the U.S. Army and Navy established policies which allowed women to officially serve in the armed forces in a non-nursing capacity.

Loretta P. Walsh became the first woman in the United States to enlist in the military, Mar. 17, 1917. She served in the Navy during World War I as a yeoman (F), or "yeomanette," and became the first woman to reach the rank of chief petty officer during that time.

In 1917, an article from Chicago's "The Day Book" stated, "with word received from Philadelphia that Miss Loretta Walsh had enlisted as yeoman there, women flocked to enlistment places here."

A yeomanette's duties ranged from clerical work and recruiting to production jobs in ammunition factories, design work, drafting, translating, and radio operating responsibilities. Most of the women were stationed in the Washington, D.C., but some were stationed in France, Guam, and Hawaii.

"It's so inspiring to take the initiative to be the first person to do something like that," said Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Fuel) 2nd Class Xavier Amos about Walsh. "To be the first woman in the Navy, or the military in general, had to have been tough. She was doing something that defied the expectation of women in that time."

Walsh proved she and the women who came after her belonged in the military, said Amos.

When the armistice was signed Nov. 11, 1918, there were 11,275 yeomanettes in the Navy and 300 "marinettes" in the Marine Corps.

A century after Walsh's historic enlistment, women now make up 18 percent of the Navy's enlisted workforce.

"I never thought that I would join the military until it happened," said Personnel Specialist Seaman Ashley Sirkel, "I didn't think I was strong enough. Now, I'm surrounded by so many strong men and women of all rates. It's amazing that we can coexist and work together the way we do now because this one woman paved the way."

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