The Navy's History of Making WAVES

Story Number: NNS130730-10Release Date: 7/30/2013 3:09:00 PM
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By Chief Jessica Myers, Office of Women's Policy

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Women throughout the Navy, past and present, will celebrate the 71st anniversary of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) July 30.

Commands are encouraged to increase their knowledge and awareness of the contributions of women to our Navy.

On July 27, more than 45 women gathered at a special
WAVES anniversary event held in Virginia Beach, Va., to commemorate the service and sacrifice of Navy women, including two WAVES who served during World War II. The event, hosted by the Tidewater Tidal WAVES organization, has been held annually for more than 11 years. Navy participants included Senior Chief Yeoman Norma Schrader and Aviation Machinist's Mate 2nd Class Betty Allen, who both served as WAVES during World War II.

"It has been an honor to meet women who served and laid the foundation for women in today's Navy," said Rear Adm. Ann Phillips, the event's guest speaker. "It is important to remember their contributions and the impact they had and will continue to have as servicewomen's opportunities expand."

Today, having the opportunity to meet WAVES who served during World War II is very rare, but meeting a World War II WAVES who retired from 20 years of naval service, is even more so. Schrader happens to be both. During Schrader's time, women were not afforded equal rights within the Services. It was not until 1972, after the Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress, that women were allowed to serve equally with men. The following year, in 1973, pregnancy as a reason for mandatory separation was abolished. Before 1973, women were automatically discharged if they became pregnant. Many WAVES decided not to continue to serve due to this rule. Schrader, however, was one of the rare women that made it through a full twenty-year Navy career. "If I was able it to do it all over again I definitely would," said Schrader.

Although women have served in every major American conflict, WAVES did not gain a foothold in Navy service until well after World War I. After World War I, only a small corps of Navy nurses were left on active duty. The majority of Navy nurses and all enlisted women (Yeomen (F), also known as "Yeomanettes"), had been sent home. It wouldn't be until 23 years after first officially serving during World War I that Navy women would return to general service in 1942, during the height of World War II. The Navy was preparing to accept not just a large number of enlisted women, as it had done during World War I, but also female commissioned officers.

The initial response to the recruitment of women was overwhelming and leadership quickly realized these new Navy women had to be managed, training establishments had to be rapidly set up, an administrative structure needed to be put in place, and uniforms needed to be designed.

WAVES were easily identified by their classic uniform design, which became a prominent feature on World War II Navy recruiting posters. The Navy still uses basic elements from the original WAVES uniforms seven decades later. Though modified slightly over time, the original WAVES combination cover has become a traditional and historic symbol which represents Navy women's heritage.

Naval Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Mildred Helen McAfee, a prominent educator and president of Wellesley College, was selected as the first female commissioned officer and the first wartime director of the WAVES on August 3, 1942. Though many challenges had to be overcome, within only one year, more than 27,000 women wore the WAVES uniform.

McAfee would eventually guide the growth of the WAVES to a force of more than 80,000 Navy women, who would serve in a variety of occupational specialties. Traditionally women would fill secretarial and clerical jobs; however, the wartime demand required thousands of Navy WAVES to perform duties as air traffic controllers, cryptologists, draftsmen, meteorologists, and translators.

At the end of World War II, Navy women were uncertain about their future serving in a peacetime Navy. Many WAVES faced the same demobilization process that had occurred after World War I. McAfee left the Navy in 1945, eager to return to her position at Wellesley College, and Cmdr. Jean Tilford Palmer was named her successor. Palmer immediately began work on legislation to authorize permanent status for women in the regular Navy. To help convince Congress, Palmer partnered with Cmdr. Joy Bright Hancock, who was the assistant director (plans) of the Women's Reserve until 1946, and Capt. Ira Nun of the Judge Advocate General's staff. A fleet-wide survey was conducted, a meeting was held with the chairman of the House Committee on Naval Affairs, and various committee hearings followed. Eventually a bill was drafted to establish a permanent place for women in the regular Navy, but more work was still needed to accomplish this goal.

As the congressional process continued, Palmer left the Navy in 1946, naming Hancock as the new director. Newly promoted to captain, Hancock brought a vast amount of experience to the position, having worked at the Bureau of Aeronautics from 1934-1942, having served as an enlisted Yeomen (F) during World War I, and as a military spouse (twice widowed). Hancock immediately began working where Palmer had left off; mustering the backing she needed to win approval for her proposal.

When the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing met in 1947, Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz testified on the necessity of retaining women in a permanent status. 0It was argued that the WAVES's superior work during the war demonstrated women's manual dexterity, patience, attention to detail, and ability to endure monotonous work. On June 12, 1948, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act was signed.

Later that same year, the position of Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women (ACNP(W)) was created from the original WAVES leadership position. This eventually evolved into the Office of Women's Policy, today known as OPNAV N134W under the Chief of Naval Personnel.

Today women continue to make indispensable contributions to our Navy mission and operations. More than 66,000 women serve in the Navy in the active and Reserve components, comprising 18 percent of our Navy force. There are currently 38 female flag officers, two female fleet master chiefs, and one female Force master chief in the Navy.

For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Navy Office of Women's Policy, visit

For more information about the history of women and their numerous contributions to the Navy, visit

For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Office of Diversity and Inclusion, visit

Retired Senior Chief Yeoman April Maletz, a member of the Tidewater Tidal WAVES, speaks to Expeditionary Strike Group 2
130329-N-RA063-059 VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (March 29, 2013) Retired Senior Chief Yeoman April Maletz, a member of the Tidewater Tidal WAVES, speaks to Expeditionary Strike Group 2 about the contributions of Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES) in honor of Women's History Month in March. She showcased several authentic memorabilia to include rating badges worn by WAVES. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Candice Tresch)
April 2, 2013
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