By John R. Desselle, Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division
Today, we join the nation in celebration of Women Equality Day, to commemorate the proud and dedicated service in the U.S. Navy. In 1908, women officially began serving as nurses in the Navy. Yeomanettes or yeomen were added during WWI. During WWII, Congress established the Navy’s Women’s Reserve Program, or WAVES. Today, women serve in every rank from seaman to admiral and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver.
Take a look below at some of the outstanding, trailblazing women to wear the Navy uniform. In the comments, tell us women in the Navy who inspired you!
The Sacred Twenty were a group of exclusively female nurses who, during World War I, were the first female members to ever formally serve in the U.S. Navy representing the Nurse Corps. They were referred to as Hospital Stewards and Hospital Apprentices. By the end of World War I the number of women in the U.S. Navy had escalated to 1,386.
Hospital Apprentices second class, Ruth C. Isaacs, Katherine Horton and Inez Patterson, were the first African-Americans Waves to enter Hospital Corps School at National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, MD., Mar. 2,1945.
Dr. Grace Murray Hopper, was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer. In 1944, she invented the first compiler for a computer programming language and was one of those who promoted the idea of machine-independent programming languages which led to the development of “Common Business Oriented Language” (COBOL), one of the first high-level programming languages. Upon her retirement from the Navy in 1986, with the rank of Rear Admiral, she immediately became a senior consultant to Digital Equipment Corporation, and remained there several years, working well into her eighties.
Wendy B. Lawrence, pictured in 2003, was a crew member on four space shuttle flights between 1995 and 2005, logging more than 1,225 hours in space. Her spaceflight experience includes: STS-67 Endeavour (March 2-18, 1995, STS-86 Atlantis (September 25-October 6, 1997), STS-91 Discovery (June 2-12, 1998) and STS-114 Discovery (July 26-August 9, 2005). She was awarded the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the NASA Space Flight Medal, the Navy Commendation Medal and the Navy Achievement Medal. She retired in 2006
Barbara Rainey, was the first of her class to earn her Gold Wings and was designated the first female naval aviator at her ceremony at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, Texas, on February 22, 1974. She was assigned to fly C-1s in Alameda, California with a transport squadron and became the first jet qualified woman in the U. S. Navy flying the T-39. On July 13, 1982, she was killed in a crash while practicing touch-and-go landings at Middleton Field near Evergreen, Alabama.
Michelle Howard, is not only the first woman to become a four-star admiral and Vice Chief of Naval Operations , but also the first African-American woman to hold that post.
Fran McKee, served in the U.S. Navy 1950 to 1981, was the first female line officerto hold the rank of Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. She was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral on June 1, 1976 and earned her second star in November 1978. Rear Admiral McKee was one of the first two women selected to attend the Naval War College, and was the first woman to command an activity of the Naval Security Group Command. She retired from the Navy in 1981.
Harriet Ida Pickens and Ensign Frances Wills became the first African-American female officers in the WAVES in November 1944. They graduated from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen’s School (Women’s Reserve) at Northampton, Mass. By the time World War II ended on Sept. 2, 1945, Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Wills were the only two black female officers among the Navy’s 86,000 WAVES.
Sue S. Dauser was Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps from 1939 into 1945, and was the first Superintendent to hold the rank of Captain. During the 1920s, Dauser served onboard several ships and in overseas billets in Guam and the Philippines as well as in naval hospitals in the U.S. In 1945, Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal presented her with the Distinguished Service Medal, the first navy nurse to earn that honor. She retired from the Navy in 1946.
First six women in the Regular Navy, Rear Adm. George L. Russell, (Judge Advocate General of the Navy) Swears in the first six women in the Regular Navy while the Secretary of the Navy John L. Sullivan, far left, looks on. Captain Joy B. Hancock, Director of the Woman’s Reserve, is next to RADM Russell, July 7, 1948.
From nurses to heavy equipment operators, from Seaman Recruits to Admirals, from the desks Clerks or Admins to Sailors/WAVEs on combat ships, women have fulfill every available position in the U.S. Navy and done an outstanding job. We dedicate this day to honor our brave and dedicated women in Naval History! Tell us in the comments below the female Sailors that have motivated you throughout your Navy career.