Women's Milestones in Naval History


In 1862, Sisters of the Holy Cross served aboard USS Red Rover, the Navy’s first hospital ship, joining a crew of 12 officers, 35 enlisted, and others supporting medical care.  Red Rover remained the only hospital ship in the Navy until the Spanish-American War.

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13 May 1908

Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps on 13 May 1908; The Surgeon General selected Esther Voorhees Hasson as the Superintendent because of her extensive experience as an Army contract nurse aboard hospital ship, USS Relief during the Spanish American War.

"The Sacred Twenty" Appointed in 1908, group photograph of the first twenty Navy Nurses. Taken at the Naval Hospital, Washington, D.C., circa October 1908. They are identified in Photo # NH 52960 (Complete Caption).

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17 March 1917

Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels announced that the Navy will enlist females on 17 March 1917; Most of the 11,000 female yeoman worked in the nation’s capital filling a variety of jobs including draftsman, interpreters, couriers and translators. Late in the War I, the Navy enlisted 24 African American women who worked in the Navy Department building. Fifty-seven Yeoman (f.) and two woman marines died from the 1918 Influenza.

Yeoman First Class (F) Joy Bright, USNRF Photographed in February 1918, while serving tn the Office of the Naval Superintendent of Construction, New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. .

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Yeoman (F) Uniform


Three hundred-seven women enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War I. Like the Yeoman (f.), they were limited to the enlisted ranks, participated in parades and the majority of them served in Washington, D.C. working as accountants, paymaster, recruiters, and stenographers. Navy nurses treated patients in hospitals within the U.S., overseas, and on hospital ships during WWI.

Yeoman-F Uniform, US Naval Reserve Force 1918 Summer Uniform Blue consists of a Navy blue "Norfolk" style jacket and skirt. Black straw boater with US Navy hat ribbon. Jacket has World War I Victory medal ribbon. Uniform would also have included a white shirt with closed collar and tie or open collar with black neckerchief, white gloves , black hose, and black shoes.

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Lieutenant Commander Mildred McAffee, USNR Portrait photograph, taken in 1942-43

30 July 1942

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Public Law 689 creating the Navy’s women reserve program on 30 July 1942.

3 August 1942

Lieutenant Commander Mildred H. McAfee, USNR, Director of the WAVES (Navy’s first female Line Officer (3 August 1942).

Midred McAfee
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left), and Ensign Frances Wills

December 1944

Congratulate each other after being commissioned as the first African-American "WAVES" officers, December 1944. They were members of the final graduating class of the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (WR) at Northampton, Massachusetts.

First Female Officers - African-Americans

23 December 1944

Public Law 238 granted full military rank to members of the Navy Nurse Corps. Thus, Sue Dauser, the Director of the Navy Nurse Corps, received a full commission in the rank of Captain. Thus, Dauser became the first female in that rank.

Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Elizabeth Wills became the first African American female officers in the Navy on 23 December 1944

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, Md,
 and several times she took the trolley or bus from Bethesda to the Corcoran to sit for Murray. 1941 to 1945

Over 11,000 Navy nurses served at naval shore commands, on hospital ships, at field hospitals, in airplanes and on 12 hospital ships. LT Ann Bernatitus, NC, escaped from the Philippines just before the Japanese invaded; she later became the first recipient of the Legion of Merit award. Eleven Navy Nurses were POWs in the Philippines from 1941 to 1945; they received the Bronze Star for their heroism.
Petty Officer Fender, a Native-American, served during the Korean War period and was trained at Naval Training Center, Bainbridge, Maryland. This picture was taken circa mid-1950s.

30 July 1948

Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act, 30 July 1948 allowed women to serve in the peace time military with some restrictions


Edna Young-1st black enlisted female to serve in the regular Navy in 1948; retired as a Chief. Annie Neal Graham-1st black female to enlist in the United States Marine Corps on 8 September 1949

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