Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Women in the U.S. Navy

montage of women serving in the Navy
50-Caliber Watch. Painting, Oil on Canvas Board; by John Charles Roach; 1991; Framed Dimensions 34H X 28W. (91-049-D)


The first women to serve in the U.S. Navy were nurses, beginning with the “Sacred Twenty” appointed after Congress established the Navy Nurse Corps on 13 May 1908. The first large-scale enlistment of women into the Navy met clerical shortages during World War I, and the second came months before the United States entered World War II. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 creating the Navy’s women reserve program on 30 July 1942, which paved the way for officer and enlisted women to enter the Navy. On 22 February 1974, the Navy designated the first woman as an aviator. On 7 March 1994, the Navy issued the first orders for women to be assigned aboard a combatant ship, USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69). Today, women serve in every rank from seaman to admiral and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver.

<p>Women in Naval History Timeline Graphic pdf</p>

Women in Naval History Timeline Graphic 

Significant Dates and Historical Events for Women in the U.S. Navy

Women Trailblazers

Select Ships Named in Honor of Notable Women

Collections Focused on Women in the U.S. Navy

Oral Histories


NHHC Museum Resources

National Naval Aviation Museum

From Typewriters to Strike Fighters: Women In Naval Aviation

U.S. Naval Undersea Museum

Women Divers

U.S. Navy Seabee Museum

History of Women in the Seabees and the Civil Engineer Corps

Further Reading

A portrait of a woman wearing a World War I uniform, in the far background is a ship firing its guns
Chief Yeoman (F) USNRF - World War I

Photo #: NH 52941  Navy Department, Washington, D.C.
Military and civilian personnel of the Supplies and Accounts office in the Main Navy or Munitions Buildings, circa 1918.

Photo #: NH 96919-KN Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR
Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR

 LTjg Ann Bernatitus, (NC), USN
LTjg Ann Bernatitus, (NC), USN.

NH 95359  WAVES Aviation Metalsmiths
WAVES Aviation Metalsmiths

Rosemary Mariner Pilot
Captain Rosemary Mariner, USN, the first woman to command an operational naval aviation squadron when she led VAQ-34 during Operation Desert Storm.


Brave, Bold, and Fearless Firsts: An infographic on the wartime experiences of two women at Iwo Jima and Okinawa

Photo #: NH 86039  Yeoman (F) Drill Force
Yeoman (F) Drill Force

Photo #: 80-G-1037198  Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, (NC) USN
Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, (NC) USN

Photo #: 80-G-297441  Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills
Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Harriet Ida Pickens (left) and Ensign Frances Wills, the Navy's first African-American WAVES officers.

Hospital Apprentices (Left to Right: Ruth C. Isaacs, Katherine Horton, Inez Patterson) are the first African-American WAVES to enter the Hospital Corps School at the National Naval Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland.
African-American WAVES

WAVES Walking In Front of the NYC Skyline
WAVES Walking In Front of the NYC Skyline

Female U.S. Navy pilot standing in front of an F/A-18A with helmet in hand.
Lieutenant Tammie J. Shults, one of the first women to fly Navy tactical aircraft, stands in front of an F/A-18A with Tactical Warfare Squadron VAQ 34, in 1992. (USN photo by Thomas P. Milne, 1992).

Published: Tue Feb 07 16:59:59 EST 2023