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New Opportunities, New Achievements

Postwar Years to 1990s

Lt. Suneson; Hospitalman Peckenpaugh; Lt. Cmdr. Rainey; Capt. Bynum; Rear Adm. Fishburne

(Left to right) Lieutenant Charlene T. Suneson, USNR, and Lieutenant (j.g.) J.A. Bishop, USN; Hospitalman Elena J. Peckenpaugh; Lieutenant Commander Barbara Allen Rainey; Captain Joan C. Bynum; Rear Admiral Lillian Fishburne. Click image to download.


The Women’s Armed Forces Integration Act of 30 July 31948, allowed women to serve in the peacetime military with some restrictions. Edna Young became the first black enlisted female to serve in the regular Navy in 1948; she later retired as a Chief. Annie Neal Graham became the first black female to enlist in the United States Marine Corps on 8 September 1949.


In 1961, Lieutenant Charlene T. Suneson, USNR, reported for duty to the Officer of the Day, Lieutenant (j.g.) J. A. Bishop, USN, on board USS General W. A. Mann (AP-112). She became the first line WAVES officer to be ordered to shipboard duty.


Captain Arlene Duerk, a World War II and Korean War veteran, served as Chief of Nursing Service, Naval Hospital Great Lakes until 1970, when she was promoted to Director, Navy Nurse Corps. Two years later she became the Navy's first female admiral. On 7 August  1972, Chief of Naval Operations Elmo Zumwalt Jr. issued Z-Gram 116 which expanded opportunities for Navy women. Also in 1972, the first Navy team of women trained at the Fire Fighting School, Naval Station, Treasure Island, San Francisco, California. Hospitalman Elena J. Peckenpaugh was part of the team and, after training, was assigned to the hospital ship USS Sanctuary (AH-17), the first ship with a mixed male-female crew.


Lieutenant (j.g.) Barbara Allen Rainey became the first Navy female aviator, earning her wings on 22 February 1974.


Public Law 94-106 required the service academies to admit women by 1976. In the fall of 1976, women entered the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and Naval Academies. There were 81 women in the class of 1980 at the Naval Academy; 55 of them graduated.


Navy nurse Joan C. Bynum became the first black female promoted to the rank of captain. The Navy expanded the types of ships on which women could be stationed to include tenders, oilers, and other types of auxiliary ships. Previously, only hospital ships had women permanently stationed on board.


Beginning in the 1980s, female helicopter pilots got the opportunity to land on aircraft carriers, one of the most challenging maneuvers that a pilot could ever tackle.


In 1990, then a Captain Marsha J. Evans assumed command of Naval Station, Treasure Island, San Francisco, California, thereby becoming the first woman to command a naval station. Lieutenant Commander Darlene Iskra became the first Navy woman to command a ship.


In 1993, Congress repealed the Combat Exclusion Law, thereby allowing women to serve on combatant ships. Rear Admiral Louise C. Wilmot became the first woman to command a naval base; she assumed command of Naval Base Philadelphia on 7 July 1993. As the naval base commander, Rear Admiral Wilmot was responsible for all naval stations and facilities in the Philadelphia area.


Carol Mutter became the first female three-star officer in the military; Patricia Tracey became the second a few months later.


Lillian Fishburne became the first black female promoted to flag rank in February 1998. On 10 June 1998, Commander Maureen A. Farren became the first woman to command a combatant ship when she took command of USS Mount Vernon (LSD-39), an amphibious dock landing ship.

Continue reading: 21st Century

Published: Wed Feb 08 14:09:05 EST 2023