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Women Veterans

WAVES Proved U.S. Navy Could Use A Few Good Women


Women in the military began with the women who served as Navy nurses beginning in 1908. As the Navy became more involved in WW I, it became evident that there would be a shortage of men for sea duty because so many would be needed for clerical positions.

Navy regulations defined "yeoman" positions only as "personnel" without restriction as to gender, so Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels requested a "Call to Colors" for women to handle those duties.

Immediately 100 women responded. By the end of WW I. 11,275 Yeomen F (the ‘F stood for Female) had served.

Despite recognition for a job well done, Navy brass made it clear that "women would never again be en-listed to serve with the Navy."

Early in 1941, as tension mounted and the threat of an all-out attack was imminent, women tried in vain to be given the chance to serve in the Armed Forces. Then came Pearl Harbor, and on January 2,1942, Rear Admiral Chester Nimitz recommended that the Secretary of the Navy petition Congress to consider legislation authorizing the use of women to supplement manpower strictly on an emergency basis. With passage of the WAAC Bill on May 16, 1942, Congress opened armed forces duty to women.

The Navy Women’s Reserve Act [Public Law 689] passed Congress shortly thereafter, and on July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the act into law.

On August 3, 1942, Mildred McAfee of Wellesley College was chosen to head the Women’s Reserve. She took a one-year leave of absence from her position and was sworn in as the first female Lieutenant Commander USNR. Professor Elizabeth Reynard, who was a liaison for the Navy’s Bureau of Navigation, was the second.

Originally, the Navy’s bureau of personnel called for 10,000 officers and enlisted women. This was subsequently revised to 12,000 officers and 75,000 enlisted.

College campuses were used as training sites in order to provide dignity and prestige to the women volunteers. They were also convenient because housing, classrooms, dining halls and recreation facilities were already in place.

In Massachusetts, Smith College and Mount Holyoke were picked for officer training. Early enlisted personnel went to Oklahoma A _ M in Stillwater for Yeoman School, the University of Wisconsin in Madison for Radioman School and Indiana University at Bloomington for Storekeeper School.

The first Boot Camp was stationed at Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls. When this facility became overcrowded, the Bronx Campus of Hunter College was vacated and turned over to the Navy.

Thirteen neighboring apartment buildings were commandeered as barracks. The City of New York condemned the buildings and relocated the tenants, who left the buildings trashed.

Instead of the 70 men from the Brooklyn Navy Yard who were to come and do all the clean-up, cooking and serving chow, only seven showed up. The job fell to the first 100 recruits who worked ‘round the clock to get things shipshape and serve meals to newer recruits.

New recruits poured in to the Bronx at a rate of 250 per day. By the time Hunter was closed in October 1945, a total of 80,936 WAVES, 1,844 SPARS and 3,190 Women Marines had been trained there.

That first regiment who had labored so intensively was later commended for "meritorious service above and beyond the call of duty."

By V-J Day, approximately 8,000 0fficers and 76,000 enlisted, with 8,000 more still in training, had released 50,500 men for sea duty and filled 27,000 other jobs. They had learned about naval history, ships and aircraft in Boot Camp. Then, in specialized training, the women learned to serve as airplane mechanics, storekeepers, occupational and physical therapists, yeomen, mail carriers, cooks and bakers, control tower operators, photographers, pharmacist mates and technicians of many types.

Wearing light blue uniforms created by fashion designer Mr. Mainbocher, WAVES served stateside and later overseas until July 1948. At that time, members of the Women’s Reserve became part of the regular Navy. The WAVES had proven beyond a doubt what officers of the Navy Nurse Corps had known all along: that women could handle any job the Navy gave them.

WAVES National is a non-profit organization whose membership consists of past and present female Navy and Marine personnel, nurses and Yeomen Fs throughout the United States.

WAVES National members serve their communities volunteering their time and raising contributions for charitable causes throughout the country.

The organization is social and informative. One of its main goals is to make women veterans aware of the benefits they are entitled to, including health and nursing home care.

Iowa currently has 7 units looking for new members.  They are located in Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Grinnell, Des Moines, Mason City, North Iowa Lakes and Sioux City.  New members can include Coast Guard, Marines and Navy Nurses.   You can contact WAVES National - State of Iowa office at 515-285-7816.

Women Veterans of Note

Grace Hopper

Born December 9, 1906, died January 1, 1992

"It is easier to apologize than to get permission." -- Admiral Grace Hopper

"A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things." -- Admiral Grace Hopper

Admiral Grace Hopper was a distinguished naval officer and computer scientist. The first person to receive the computer sciences Man of the Year award from the Data Processing Management Association (1969), she is also known as "Amazing Grace". Hopper was a programmer on the world's first large-scale digital computer, Mark I. "It was 51 feet long, eight feet high, eight feet deep," she said. "And it had 72 words of storage and could perform three additions a second."

Her work resulted in the first computer language compiler, and she worked on the development of COBOL, one of the first computer languages. She is the person who first coined the term "bug" when referring to a programming error, which in her case was an actual moth in the computer. In 1973, she became the first woman to be promoted to captain in the navy while on the retired reserve list.

"I seem to do a lot of retiring," said Admiral Hopper, who was born in 1906. She was first told she was "too old" for something when she retired from the Navy for the first time. In 1967 she was recalled to active duty with the Navy. In 1983, she was appointed Rear Admiral, and when she retired again from the Navy in August 1986, she was the nation's oldest active duty officer.

After her retirement from the armed services, she worked as a consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation until her death.

After four decades of pioneering work, Admiral Hopper felt her greatest contribution had been "all the young people I've trained."


Kathleen McGrath

Commander Kathleen McGrath is the first Navy woman to command a warship.  The USS Jarrett, a Navy frigate, is 453 feet long and has a crew of 262.

Link to Time Magazine article, dated March 27, 2000. This link will open in a new browser window.


Patricia Tracey

Vice Admiral Patricia Ann Tracey

United States Navy
Chief of Naval Education and Training
and Director of Naval Training

Vice Admiral Patricia A. Tracey is the senior ranking woman officer in the United States military service, and the first and only woman in the U.S. Navy to achieve the rank of Vice Admiral. Vice Admiral Tracey assumed her current position as the Chief of Naval Education and Training and the Director of Training on July 10, 1996.

A native of The Bronx, New York, Vice Admiral Tracey graduated from the College of New Rochelle with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Mathematics, completed Women's Officer' School, and was commissioned as an Ensign in 1970. She also earned a Master's degree, with distinction, in Operations Research from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. Her initial assignment in the U.S. Navy was to the Naval Space Surveillance Systems where she was qualified as a Command Center Officer and Orbital Analyst.

Her first command tour was at the Naval Technical Training Center at Treasure Island, California, followed by a staff position with the Chief of Naval Personnel as the head of the Enlisted Plans and Community Management Branch. She served as Commanding Officer of Naval Station Long Beach, then the second largest homeport of the Pacific Fleet. Vice Admiral Tracey became a Fellow with the Chief of Naval Operations' Strategic Studies Group at the Naval War College in 1992. She was assigned as Director for Manpower and Personnel on the staff of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Prior to her current assignment, she served as Commander, Naval Training Center, Great Lakes, home of the Navy's only boot camp.

The admiral's personal decorations include the Defense Distinguished Service, three Legion of Merit Awards, and three Meritorious Service Medals.