Naval History and Heritage Command

Related Content
Yeomen (F); WAVES; all-female-crew combat mission

Left: NH 52947. Yeomen (F) at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Mare Island, California, 1918. Center: NH 95359. Members of the first class of WAVES to graduate from the Aviation Metalsmith School, Naval Air Technical Training Center, Norman, Oklahoma, 30 July 1943. Right: U.S. Navy photograph by MC2 James R. Evans, 120125-N-DR144-012. Arabian Sea, 25 January 2012. First all-female-crew combat mission in an E-2C Hawkeye aboard the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).

Women in the U.S. Navy

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 the 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. Today, women serve in every rank from seaman to admiral and in every job from naval aviator to deep-sea diver.

Digital Resources

Observance support content can be found here for use by commands and organizations.

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

Answering the Call: Civil War to World War II
New Opportunities, New Achievements: Postwar Years to 1990s
Leadership in the Modern Navy: 21st Century

Women Trailblazers

First African American Female Officers
Making Dreams Come True
Navy Women of Courage and Intelligence

Ships Named in Honor of Women

Higbee (DD-806)
Hopper (DDG-70)
Mary Sears (T-AGS-65)
Roosevelt (DDG-80)

Collections Focused on Women in the U.S. Navy

Art exhibit: Women in Uniform
Photographs: Women in the Navy

Oral Histories

Captain Ann Bernatitus, Nurse in the Pacific Theater, World War II
Josie Mabel Brown, Navy nurse during 1918 influenza epidemic
Lieutenant Dorothy Still Danner, Nurse, POW in the Philippines
Lieutenant Commander Bobbie Hovis, Nurse in Vietnam


Captain Ann Bernatitus, Nurse Corps
Captain Joy Bright Hancock, served in both World Wars
Esther Voorhees Hasson, first Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps
Lenah Sutcliffe Higbee, second Superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps

Further Reading

Establishment of the Navy Nurse Corps, Public Law No. 115, 13 May 1908
I Was a Yeoman (F), experience of Mrs. Henry F. Butler, a Yeoman (F) during World War I
History of Women in the Navy, Navy Department Press Release, 30 July 1942
Establishment of the Women’s Reserve, Public Law No. 689, H.R. 6807, 30 July 1942 [Chapter 538]
Great Lakes ALWAV Newsletter, April 1, 1943
First Anniversary of WAVES, letter from President Roosevelt, July 30, 1943
Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women in the Navy, Z-gram #116, August 7, 1972
Navy to Begin Assigning Women to Ships, News Release, Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), October 24, 1978
Role of Women in the Theater of Operations, from Appendix R, Conduct of the Persian Gulf War: Final Report to Congress, vol. 2. Washington: Department of Defense, 1992

Published:Mon Mar 21 10:12:31 EDT 2016