Women in Uniform

From a Yeoman (F) in WWI to a contemporary aviator, this exhibition features works of art from the Navy Art Collection that depict female Navy military personnel. Women have had a continuous and growing presence in the U.S. Navy throughout the 20th and into the 21st century. Whenever international or domestic events dictated the need, the Navy expanded its opportunities for women to serve. These artworks demonstrate the wide-ranging and varied occupations women have held.

The first large-scale employment of women as Naval personnel took place to meet the severe clerical shortages of the World War I era. The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 had conspicuously omitted mention of gender as a condition for service, leading to formal permission to begin enlisting women in mid-March 1917, shortly before the United States entered the "Great War." Nearly six hundred Yeomen (Female) were on duty by the end of April 1917, a number that had grown to over eleven thousand in December 1918, shortly after the Armistice.

The Yeomen (F), or "Yeomanettes" as they were popularly known, primarily served in secretarial and clerical positions, though some were translators, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, ship camouflage designers and recruiting agents. Five went to France with Naval hospital units and a modest number of others were stationed in Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone. However, the great majority were assigned duties at Naval installations in the Continental United States, frequently near their homes, processing the great volume of paperwork generated by the war effort.

Yeomen (F), all of whom held enlisted ranks, continued in service during the first months of the post-war Naval reductions. Their numbers declined steadily, reaching just under four thousand by the end of July 1919, when they were all released from active duty. Yeomen (F) were continued on inactive reserve status, receiving modest Retainer Pay, until the end of their four-year enlistments, at which point all women except Navy nurses disappeared from the uniformed Navy until 1942.

Many honorably discharged Yeomen (F) were appointed to Civil Service positions in the same Navy Yards and Stations where they had served in wartime. Entitled to veterans' preference for Government employment, they provided a strong female presence in the Navy's civilian staff through the decades after World War I.

Click the image for a larger view.

LTjg Ann Bernatitus, (NC), USN

Albert K. Murray
Oil on canvas, 1942

Upon returning from harrowing service in the Philippines at Bataan and an evacuation from Corregidor on USS Spearfish (SS-190), LTjg Bernatitus of the Nurse Corps, received a hero's welcome from her hometown in Pennsylvania, complete with parade and dinner at the local high school. Albert Murray, painter of numerous admirals and dignitaries, made this portrait of her at the Corcoran Gallery here in Washington in 1942. Bernatitus was stationed at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and several times she took the trolley or bus from Bethesda to the Corcoran to sit for Murray.

Later in the War, Bernatitus served on the Hospital Ship USS Relief (AH-1) during the Okinawa campaign (1945) and assisted with the return of American prisoners of war from Japanese-occupied China.


Navy Nurse

Joseph Hirsch
Oil on canvas, c.1943

An important function of the Navy nurse was to instruct hospital corpsmen, who could be men or women (WAVES). Here one nurse supervises the administration of an anesthetic, given intravenously preparatory to resetting a Marine's leg.

By 1943, the Navy Nurse Corps reached nearly 4000 regular and reserve nurses, up from approximately 800 just two years prior. Nurses were deployed outside the U.S. in fourteen duty stations and one POW camp in the Philippines. This scene occurred in a Navy mobile hospital unit in New Caledonia, an island slightly smaller than the state of New Jersey in the South Pacific, off the east coast of Australia.


Fever Therapy Cabinet

Carlos Andreson #11
Charcoal drawing, 1943

This device artificially induces a fever in order to flush out accumulated toxins through the patient's sweat. As this Navy patient's temperature rises, the nurse wipes the perspiration from his reddening face, while a fan cools his head. A hospital corpsman takes measures to replace the salt and water lost by perspiration during the treatment. During World War II, Abbott Laboratories, wanting to aid the war effort, hired civilian artists as art correspondents. With the cooperation of the armed services, these artists were sent to military activities in the United States and abroad. Carlos Andreson was one such artist. He was commissioned to depict medical subjects at stateside Naval hospitals.


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