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Tides of Change: WAVES

On July 30, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the enlistment and commissioning of women in the Naval Reserve as Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service, or WAVES. Like the enlistment of Yeomanettes, this military participation was seen as a necessary but temporary wartime measure. By their 3rd anniversary, women made up 18 percent of all naval personnel on shore duty, performing almost every type of onshore job.

Lt. Etta Belle Kitchen was the first WAVE to report to the Shipyard. By the end of the war, more than 200 WAVES were stationed there. Of those, 30 were officers.

Free a Man to Fight

Both civilian and enlisted women encountered many challenges at the Shipyard. Although they were praised for freeing up men for overseas combat, strong discrimination remained. Along with the long hours they put in at the Shipyard, women were expected to keep up with their traditional duties as mothers and wives. Negative attitudes from male superiors and co-workers also made for a challenging work environment. Many women felt they had to constantly prove themselves as competent workers.

Although the WAVES were given greater privileges than the Yeomanettes, significant limitations remained. They were paid less than their male counterparts, could not serve overseas, were not permitted to give orders to men, and could not rise beyond the rank of lieutenant commander.

Despite these challenges, women proved that they could fulfill these so-called "man-sized chores" and helped pave the way for the full integration of women into both the workforce and the Navy.

Click the image for a larger view.

Unlike the Yeomanettes, who could only achieve the rank of Chief Yeoman, WAVES could serve as commissioned officers. Here a Marine second lieutenant and two WAVES ensigns are pictured, c. 1942-1945.


 

WAVES were given a $200 uniform allowance, which covered the uniform you see here (currently on display at PSNM in Beyond Rosie) along with a hat and a leather handbag. Shoes, stockings, and gloves were purchased separately.

As one WAVES recruitment poster exclaimed: "It's a proud moment when you first step out in brand new Navy blues! The trim uniform was especially designed by the famous stylist Mainbocher to flatter every figure and to make you look - and feel - your best!"



 

WAVES also participated in extracurricular activities such as softball and basketball leagues. Pictured here is the Shipyard's 1945 WAVES softball team.



 


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