YORKTOWN, Va. (NNS) -- "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives" resonated across Naval Weapons Station Yorktown (WPNSTA Yorktown) as the historic roles women have played since the founding of our nation were exemplified, March 20, at the installation's annual Women's History Month program.
Rear Adm. Christina Alvarado, deputy commander, Navy Medicine East, and deputy director, Navy Nurse Corps, spoke about very influential women that most people never even heard of. These ranged from New York police officer Moira Smith, who perished at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, as she directed others to safety; to Ensign Melissa Rose Barnes, who was preparing for her first assignment at sea when she died at her post at the Pentagon on 9/11.
"We proudly remember some of the heroes and pioneers who shaped our world and changed the course of history," Alvarado said. "They fought for our rights, struggled to be free of discrimination and stereotypes, and refused to be locked into a role set forth by men, family, and society. They raised babies, but they also raised some hell and broke free of the conventions of culture."
Established in 1987, the Congress of the United States proclaimed the month of March as Women's History Month to celebrate and commemorate the role women have played in our national identity. The theme for 2015 is "Weaving the Stories of Women's Lives". For Alvarado, this year's theme hit very close to home.
"Family members who became interwoven into the fabric of my being, my heart and my soul," she explained. "For it is the family nucleus that has the most profound impact on the women we become."
She spoke about her maternal grandmother who fought hard to become one of the first women to work on a congressional staff, something unheard of in the 1940's. Her role paved the way for many others, including her father, sisters, and even herself.
Alvarado served on the House and Senate committees on Veteran's Affairs for more than 10 years, working to make improvements to the healthcare system designed to serve our veterans. It was there that she decided the best way to fight for veterans is to become one.
"Many of them (veterans) were catastrophically disabled by their war wounds, but they fought on and had a fervent love of life and seemingly knew no limits," Alvarado added. "I decided that if they could continue to serve by fighting for veterans issues, then I could serve at least one weekend a month in the reserves."
According to Alvarado, women have been serving in the U.S. Navy for over a century. The first woman entered the Navy in 1908, when Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps. The highest ranking woman is the Navy today is Adm. Michelle Howard, Vice Chief of Naval Operations and the first female four-star admiral. There are currently 36 female flag officers and 56 female command master chiefs on duty today. One such pioneer passed away the day before the program at WPNSTA Yorktown.
"On Thursday, March 19, 2015, the oldest U.S. woman veteran, Lucy Coffee, passed away at the age of 108," said MM1 Valerie McCall. "She joined the Women's Auxiliary Corps after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. During her service, she earned the Philippine Liberation Ribbon and two Bronze Stars."
The successes of these pioneering women have broken the "glass ceiling" for all women. There are 9.1 million women-owned businesses in the United States today. These businesses employ more than 27.5 million people and contribute over $3.6 trillion to the economy. Considering that in 1900, women accounted for less than one-in-five workers in the United States, they make up nearly half of the workforce today.
"All women today come into the world on the shoulders of the ones who came before them," she added. "From the earliest suffragettes to the first woman to travel into space, we have come a long way and made significant progress. We intend to go even further."
For more news from Naval Weapons Station Yorktown, visit www.navy.mil/local/nwsyorktown/.