Navy Women's History Page

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DOD Women's Fact Sheet
Women's History Month 2014

History and Firsts of Women in the Navy


First American armed ship named for a woman, but not Continental or U.S. Navy. Lady Washington (row galley, a small wooden river gunboat) built 1776 by New York State to defend Hudson River, named in honor of Martha Washington. Remained active, under General Washington's command through June 1777.


A Navy surgeon recommends that nurses be included among personnel at Navy hospitals.


First record of women at sea -- War of 1812, U.S. ships logs show women serving as contract nurses for War of 1812.


First armed ship named for a woman to serve with US Navy. Harriet Lane (Revenue Cutter) named for niece of President James Buchanan, who served as Buchanan's White House hostess. The ship was ransferred to Navy 1858, later returned to Revenue Cutter Service. Transferred to Navy when Civil War began, 1861; captured by Confederates at Galveston Jan 1863. Not returned to Government service after end of war.


Sisters of the Holy Cross nurses serve onboard Navy's first hospital ship, Red Rover. Additionally, during the Civil War, women raise money to commission ships like the Red Rover and Daniel. Bloomer (Sternwheel river steamer) apparently former named retained) Named for Amelia Bloomer, feminist. Captured from Confederates 1862; served in USN 1863-65.


Spanish American War -- More than 1,500 Civilian and Red Cross Corps is established.


U.S. Navy Nurse Corps is established on May 13. The first 20 nurses (in reality, the first women in the Navy) report to Washington, D.C., that October. By the end of World War I, numbers had escalated to 1,386. Women worked transport duty overseas (England, Ireland, Scotland).


Navy nurses serve aboard the transports USS Mayflower and USS Dolphin.


The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 allowed for enlistment of qualified "persons" for service. Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels (his assistant was Franklin D. Roosevelt) asked, "Is there any law that says a Yeoman must be a man?"

On March, 19, 1917, the Navy authorized the enlistment of women. Designated as "Yeoman" they unofficially became known as "yeomanettes." On the first day of draft registration, female "seasoned veterans" of two months were processing paperwork of the male draftees. All the women were assigned to an old tug, USS Triton, and had (F) added to their name. There was no boot camp. In addition to Yeomanettes, they were also referred to as Yeoman (F), lady sailors, and Yeowomen.

When the armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, there were 11,275 yeomanettes in the Naval service, with some 300 "Marinettes" in the Marine Corps. During this time, assignments included recruiting, bond duties, general clerical work, production in ammunition factories, designing camouflage, drafting, translation, and radio operation. While most were stationed in Washington D.C., some were stationed in France, Guam, and Hawaii. Men and women at that time earned $28.75 per month, the beginning of equal pay.


Armistice ... demobilization. Women had veterans benefits. Women in the Navy were an overwhelming success. The role played by Navy women in the war effort helped gain the passage of the 19th Amendment. Service as patriotic and faithful citizens had earned them the right to vote.


Nurses serve aboard the first ship built as a floating hospital, USS Relief (AH-1).


Economic conditions created an unlimited pool of young men, resulting in no serious plans to organize womanpower.


Naval Reserve Act allows for enrollment of qualified women.


Public Law 689 (Naval Reserve Act of 1938) amended July 30, signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to include the Women's Auxiliary Reserve, later known as the "WAVES," for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service. More than 27,000 women were on active duty in the Navy at this time. Wellesley College President Mildred McAfee, selected to lead the new Women's Reserve, was sworn in as a Lieutenant Commander on August 3, 1942. That same year, authorization was passed for women to hold the rank of Captain, and McAfee was promoted to that rank.

WWII training in conducted at Smith College for officers and Hunter College for enlisted. More than 86,000 women were on duty on V-J Day.

Day-to-day operation of Navy is supported by WAVES.They filled traditional roles, such as in administrative and medical ratings, and non-traditional roles such as rigging parachutes, instructing men in free and fixed gunnery, instructing pilots in celestial instrument navigation, aviation instrument repair (so new they had to construct their own instruments), air traffic control, aircraft mechanics - machinist mate - repairing every type of combat aircraft.

V-J Day - Navy recognizes accomplishments - keeps women on active duty

During WWII, 81 nurses, including Navy nurses, were taken prisoner by the Japanese on Guam and in the Republic of the Philippines.

  • First instance of USN assignment of woman's name to naval vessel. Sacagawea (YT-241, harbor tug), name assigned to tug acquired by Maritime Commission for Navy use. Acceptance canceled; vessel retained by Maritime Commission. No Navy service. Pocahontas (harbor tug YT-266).
  • Elizabeth C. Stanton (AP-69), troop transport named 20 Aug.
  • Florence Nightingale (AP-70), transport named 20 Aug.
  • Mary Lyon (AP-71), transport named 20 Aug.
  • Dix (AP-67), transport, named for Dorothea Dix 20 Aug.
  • Susan B. Anthony (AP-72), transport named 20 Aug.


Watseka (YT-387), harbor tug named for Pottawatomi woman.


First warship named for woman by USN; first USN ship so named to take part in combat operations. Higbee (DD-806), Gearing-class destroyer. Named for Lenah S. Higbee, Superintendent of Navy Nurse Corps 1911-1922. Served in Fast Carrier Force.


The Army-Navy Nurses Act (Public Law 36-80C) establishes the Nurse Corps as a permanent Staff Corps of the Navy and the Army. It also authorizes permanent commissioned rank for nurses.


On June 12, President Harry Truman signed Public Law 625, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act, abolishing the Women's Auxiliary Reserve and making it possible for women to enter the U.S. Navy in active or reserve status. Although women were achieving great success, it was not without restrictions. Women could constitute no more than two percent of the total force. Officer numbers were limited to ten percent of that two percent. Promotions above O-3 were capped. The URL Director of the WAVES served as an O-6, but that was only as long as she filled that billet. No flag rank; 10 USC 6015; Women could serve as General Unrestricted Line officers only.


Women in the Naval Reserve are recalled along with their male counterparts for duty during the Korean War.


Women are accepted for commission in the Medical Service Corps.


Women in the Hospital Corps begin serving on board hospital ships and transports carrying dependents.


Public Law 90-130 amended 10 USC. This eliminated the two percent ceiling on enlisted women. Additionally, it largely equalized officer promotion flow and opportunity to the grade of captain.

Vietnam: a few Navy women in country. Nurses serve aboard the hospital ship USS Sanctuary (AH-17).


Equal Rights Amendment was passed by Congress. Captain Alene Duerk, NC, Director of the Navy Nurse Corps since 1968, spot promoted to Flag rank (first female Flag officer). The name WAVE is dropped as an official title.

The pilot program for assignment of women to ships initiated in USS Sanctuary (AH-17). Limited entry into all ratings was authorized for enlisted women. Staff Corps and Restricted Line opened to women. Pending change to Navy Regulations, suspended restrictions regarding women succeeding to command ashore was authorized.

Hospital Corps male/female detailing combined.

CNO's (Adm. Elmo Zumwalt) Z-Gram 116 directs:

  • no separate management of men and women
  • command opportunity
  • authorized entry of enlisted women into all ratings
  • completed the opening of all staff corps to women
  • integrated male/female detailing
  • NROTC opened to women


Secretary of the Navy announce authorization of aviation training for women. The first female flight surgeon was designated. The first woman was selected for flight training. Major Command Screening Board began screening women. Women Officer School disestablished; Officer Candidate School (OCS) training is opened to men and women combined. Pregnancy rules are established.


First woman commissioned through NROTC. Navy became first service to graduate a women pilot.


Women were assigned to service craft (e.g., tug boats). Congress authorized admission of women to military academies. Fifteen sea intensive ratings closed to women. The Navy begins screening URL women for CDR, CO, and LCDR Executive Officer billets ashore.


First women URL officer, RADM Fran McKee, is appointed flag rank. Women were admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy. Women began to attend Aviation Officer Candidate School. Eighty-seven of 102 ratings open to women.


Navy sponsors amended Title 10 USC Section 6015 to allow permanent assignment of women to noncombatant ships.


Congress approved change to combat exclusion law to permit Navy to assign women to support and non-combatant ships, putting the Women in Ships program into force. Surface Warfare and Special Operations communities opened to women. First woman, SKCM Margaret I. Gramlich, assigned to a Command Master Chief billet ashore.


Naval Flight Officer (NFO) program opened to women. First woman qualified as Surface Warfare officer. First woman Naval Aviator obtained carrier qualification. A new career plan was established/promulgated, leading to major command/flag for general URL women.


U.S. Naval Academy graduated its first female officers. First woman was selected for the LDO program. The Defense Officer Personnel Management Act (DOPMA) is passed.

First woman commanded training command (CAPT Roberta Hazard).


First woman qualifies as Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist. Jet training pipeline opens for entry of five women per year.


First woman selected for Test Pilot School. Women are permanently assigned to Diego Garcia. By June, 193 women officers are on board 30 ships, and 2,185 enlisted women are on board 37 ships. RADM Pauline Hartington was the second woman line officer to be appointed Rear Admiral.


First woman SWO screened for XO afloat. First woman, Commodore Grace Hopper, was spot promoted to Flag rank in the Restricted Line. More than 5,700 women served as Navy officers (8% of the Navy's officer strength) and more than 37,000 enlisted women comprise 8% of the Navy's enlisted ranks. Due to their combat relationship, only two officer communities, Submarine and Special Warfare, and 13 of 100 enlisted ratings remain closed to women.


First Unrestricted Line (URL) woman, RADM Roberta Hazard, was selected for flag rank. General URL Study revised career pattern and conducted major review of 1000/1050 billet coding. All Operational Air Reconnaissance (VP) squadrons are opened to women.


DoD increased Navy's enlisted woman goal to 51,300. First woman Special Operations officer was assigned as Executive Officer (XO) afloat. OP-01 approves changes to OP-01W to be collateral duty Captain with access to OP-01. First woman assigned as Naval Station XO.


First Recruiting District has women as both CO and XO. First woman Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) assigned as XO afloat. Assignment of women to Military Sealift Command replenishment ships authorized. Navy reduces its goal for enlisted women from 51,300 to 46,796.


Reduction in 1986 goal for enlisted women in the Navy rescinded. Cohen/Proxmire Bill (S-581) proposed amending Title 10 USC Section 6015 to allow women to be permanently assigned to Combat Logistics Force ships. First woman was assigned as CO of an NROTC Unit. SECNAV directed Study Group on Progress of Women in the Navy. DACOWITS issues a report on the findings from its Western Pacific trip. NAVOP 65 announces a change in women's sea/shore rotation policy. First woman screens for command of an aviation unit. SWO/General URL detailers separated.


First woman was selected for command at sea. First woman Navy astronaut was selected.(LCDR Kathryn Sullivan, USNR). Twenty-four Combat Logistics Force (CLF) ships open to women.


First woman assigned Command Master Chief at sea. First woman executive assistant to CNO.


First woman commanded Naval Station (CAPT Marsha Evans). First woman assumed command of aviation squadron (CDR Rosemary Mariner). First woman assumed command of ship (LCDR Darlene Iskra).


2,600 Navy women participated in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. The second woman assumes command at sea. (CDR Command - 1110). December 1991: As a part of FY-92 Authorization Bill, 10 U.S.C. 6015, amended for women aviators; creation of the Presidential Commission on the assignment of women in the Armed Forces. DoD policy to delay implementation of combat exclusion law change pending results of the Presidential Commission. Second woman became executive officer of aircraft squadron.

First woman director Senior Enlisted Academy (NCCM Ginger Simpson).

First woman brigade commander, U.S. Naval Academy (MIDN Julianne Gallina).

First Surface Warfare Officer assumed command of ship (CDR Deborah Gernes).


First woman assumed command of reserve ship (LCDR Barbara Scholley). Second female commander (1110 and 1310 assumed command (CDR Jeanne Miller - USS Merrimack, CDR Linda Hutton - VRC 40). FFT's open to women. The first woman was assigned as Director of the Senior Enlisted Academy (NCCM Ginger Simpson). First woman selected for NASA Space Program.


Secretary of Defense opened combat aviation to women aviators. Navy opens enlisted aircrew positions in shore-based combat squadrons, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th Fleet Afloat Staffs, and AORs, AOEs, LCCs, and AGFs. The first woman aviator to serve with a combat squadron was LCDR Kathryn Hire, who joined VP-62. LT Shannon Workman was the first woman pilot to night-landing qualify on a carrier. LCDR Janet Marnane was the first woman to report to a CAG staff.

Six additional ratings opened to enlisted women (Aviation Anti-Submarine Warfare Operations, Electronic Warfare Technician, Fire Controlman, Gas Turbine Technician, Gas Turbine Technician-Electrical, and Gas Turbine Technician-Mechanical) and four additional classes of ships opened to women.

Transition board approved 17 female officers for transition to combat aircraft. First two women reported to tactical squadron. Combat Exclusion Law repealed by FY-94 Defense Authorization Bill. Five more ratings opened to enlisted women based on combat exclusion law repeal.

Two women selected by same selection board for admiral (CAPT Patricia Tracey and CAPT Katharine Laughton). First three women aviators selected for promotion to CAPT (CDR Jane Odea, CDR Hutton and CDR Mariner). First woman aviator reported to combat squadron (LCDR Kathryn Hire, USNR, NFO, VP-62) First two women reported to a tactical squadron (LT Shannon Workman, pilot and LT Terry Bradford, NFO, Tactical Electronic Warfare Squadron 130). First woman to command Navy Recruiting Command (RADM Marsh Evans). First woman assumed command of a Naval Base (RADM Wilmot). Two women to complete a deployment aboard a combatant (LTJG Russell, LTJG Schweinfirth; TAD 179 days aboard USS Fox (CG 33).


First women to receive permanent assignment orders to a combatant (USS Dwight D. Eisenhower) as members of the ship's crew (RM1 Terry Pelletier first to receive orders, CDR Debra Straub, LCDR Ann Davies, LCDR Nora Tyson, LCDR Linda Vanaria, CDR Cathy Osman, and LCDR Wendy Lawrence).

First woman nuclear power candidate Mary R. Henson). First woman combat pilot to successfully pass fleet carrier qualifications (LT Shannon Workman in an EA-6B Prowler). First woman to be frocked Gunner's Mate (Guns) 3rd class (Maria A. Chavez). First combatant to embark a mixed-gender Light Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) helo detachment (USS Vella Gulf). First woman to assume command of a Naval Reserve Readiness Command (REDCOM 22) (CAPT Susan Brooker).


USS Abraham Lincoln deploys to Western Pacific with mixed gender crew. First large deployment of women on combatant complete. USS Dwight D. Eisenhower completes a successful deployment to Mediterranean with approximately 400 women assigned.)

First woman Intelligence Specialist to be placed for independent duty on surface combatant (IS1 Robin Sou - USS Briscoe). First woman Seaman to Admiral graduates (ENS Donna I. Coccodrilli, ENS Nancy I. Schmidt), assigned to Newport, R.I., for SWOS. First woman to complete Submarine Engineering Duty officer qualification, eligible to wear "Dolphins" (LCDR Mary Townsend-Manning).

First woman to complete training in the T-45 Goshawk, the Navy's newest training jet (LTJG Kirsten Culler, after landing aboard USS Carl Vinson). First woman to assume command of a Naval Air Station (Key West) (CAPT Linda V. Hutton).

Benfold (DDG 65), the Navy's seventh Aegis destroyer, was delivered to the Navy in a ceremony at Ingalls shipyard on 4 Dec 95. Benfold is the first U.S. Navy ship to be built from the keel up with habitability modifications necessary for full integration of women into her crew.


The guided missile destroyer Hopper, DDG 70, commissioned on Saturday, January the 6th at Bath Ironworks in Bath, Maine. Named after Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper who was one of the pioneering spirits in the field of computer technology, and led the Navy into the computer age. She first retired in 1967, then called back to active duty and retired a second time in 1986. She died in 1992. This is only the first time since World War II and the second time in the Navy's history that a warship has been named for a woman from the Navy's own ranks.

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