Women in the Navy: WAVES to Wins

Story Number: NNS190319-08Release Date: 3/19/2019 10:24:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Tatyana Freeman, USS George Washington (CVN 73) Public Affairs

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- There is an 87-year gap between the formation of the United States Navy in 1775 and the first documented involvement of women in the Navy in 1862. However, since 1862, women in the United States Navy have continued to break barriers and make lasting contributions to the naval service.

Best put by American general, and later the 34th President of the United States, Dwight D. Eisenhower, “During the time I have had [women] under my command, they have met every test and task assigned to them…their contributions in efficiency, skill, spirit, and determination are immeasurable.” 

In 1862, the Sisters of the Holy Cross served aboard USS Red Rover, the Navy’s first hospital ship with a crew of 12 officers and 35 enlisted. They served, officially, as the first women in the Navy.

In 1908, Congress established a more permanent place for women in the Navy by creating the Navy Nurse Corps. The surgeon general selected Esther Voorhees Hasson as the superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps because of her extensive experience as an Army contract nurse aboard the United States Army Hospital Ship (USAHS) Relief during the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels authorized the enlisted of women into the Navy March 19, 1917, during World War I. Loretta Perfectus Walsh become the first woman to enlist in the Navy two days later. Eventually, 11,000 female yeomen began work in the nation’s capital, fulfilling the jobs of not only yeomen, but draftsmen, interpreters, couriers, and translators. Additionally, female Navy nurses continued to treat patients in hospitals, on ships, and overseas.

During World War II, Navy nurses continued their service at naval shore commands, hospital ships, field hospitals, and in airplanes. Lt. Ann Bernatitus of the Navy Nurse Corps became the first female and first naval servicemember to receive the Legion of Merit Award. She was commended for maintaining her position on the front lines in the Philippines while rendering continuous and devoted service during a Japanese siege on the Philippine islands. Eleven other nurses were taken as Prisoners of War (POW) from 1941-1945 and received the Bronze Star for their heroism.

On July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a law creating Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). Lt. Cmdr. Mildred H. McAfee became the first director of WAVES and eventually the first female line officer.

Soon after, in 1943, Grace Hopper joined the United States Navy and became one of the most well-known women in military history for her achievements in computer science and programming. In December 1983, she was promoted to the rank of commodore in a White House ceremony. The rank was merged with that of rear admiral two years later, so she became Rear Adm. Hopper. She also has a ship named after her, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Hopper (DDG 70).

By 1944, full military rank was granted to members of the Navy Nurse Corps, and Sue Dauser, director of the Navy Nurse Corps, received a full commission to the rank of captain, the first woman to do so.            

After World War II, the Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act of 1948 made it possible for women to serve in the peacetime military with some restrictions, and in October of the same year, the first eight women were commissioned into the peacetime Navy.

In 1959, Yeoman Anna Der-Vartanian became the first female master chief and the first female E-9 across all branches of the United States military.

In 1961, Lt. Charlene T. Juneson reported for duty aboard USS General W.A. Mann (AP-112), becoming the first WAVES officer to be ordered to shipboard duty.

In 1972, Capt. Arlene Duerk became the Navy’s first female admiral, Roseanne Roberts became the first female helicopter captain, the first women were trained at Fire Fighting School, Naval Station, Treasure Island, San Francisco, California, and USS Sanctuary (AH-17) became the first ship with a mixed male and female crew.

Feb. 22, 1974, Lt. j.g. Barbara Allen Rainey received her wings of gold, becoming the first female designated as a naval aviator.

In 1990, Capt. Marsha J. Evans assumed command of Naval Station, Treasure Island, San Francisco, becoming the first woman to command a naval station. Additionally, Lt. Cmdr. Darlene Iskra became the first woman to command a ship when she assumed command of USS Opportune (ARS-41).

In 2008, Capt. Barbara A. Sisson retired after a 28-year pioneering career in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps. Among her many accomplishments, she was the first female instructor at Civil Engineer Officer’s School.

In 2010, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus directed that women would be assigned to Ohio-class submarines, marking yet another barrier broken by pioneering women.

In 2014, Michelle Howard became the first woman to become a four-star admiral, and Rear Adm. Margaret Kibben became the first female chief of Navy chaplains.

These notable landmarks in history, and the women who paved the way for them, are honored by all prior and currently serving members. March is set aside as Women’s History Month to pay homage to their hard work, dedication, and service to country. The crew of USS George Washington (CVN 73) salutes all military women, past and present, this month and all months.

All facts in this article, as well as additional information about women in the United States Navy, can be found at http://www.history.navy.mil/browse-by-topic/diversity/women-in-the-navy.html, http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2012/12/26/first-female-commanding-officer-of-a-u-s-navy-warship/, and http://ghc.anitab.org/about-grace-hopper/

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