By Regina T. Akers, Ph.D., Historian, Naval History and Heritage Command
“They knew one thing . . . the COUNTRY WAS IN DANGER and had called the Women of America. They Answered”
There could not be a more appropriate time to pay tribute to the Navy’s first enlisted women we celebrate the centennial of the United States’ entry into World War I and the Navy’s March 19, 1917, announcement to enlist women and Women’s History Month. Over 11,000 women from every state, a few territories and the nation’s capital volunteered to enlist into the United States Navy to free male Sailors for combat duties. They courageously agreed to perform primarily clerical jobs with little if any knowledge of the Navy and how it functioned and where they might be assigned. Like the men they replaced, they exchanged their lifestyles for naval organization, policies and procedures. In the face of many challenges and criticism, they remained unwavering in their support of the Allies’ efforts to defeat their enemies and to bring their loved ones home sooner. Without the benefit of basic training, they assumed their duties and often proved more productive and effective than the men they replaced.
The Navy’s First Enlisted Women
In addition to assuring the best deployment of naval ships, Daniels required personnel to support the war effort at home. In 1917, the Navy had 128,666 enlisted personnel. When the Civil Service Commission reported its inability to provide the number of workers required to meet the Navy’s need for clerical support, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels explored his options. When he learned that there was no legal reason preventing the enlistment of women, he proceeded to do so changing the Navy forever. For the first time, women joined the ranks of its enlisted men. The Yeoman (F.) and the Navy nurses in World War I paved the way for women in today’s Navy.
More than one person claims to have been the first to propose the recruitment of women to Daniels. Charlotte Louise Barry, a Washingtonian discussed women’s right to enlist with Daniels in 1916.  Navy recruiter Lieutenant Commander Frederick Payne, a recruiter in Philadelphia, takes credit for suggesting that women enlistments would persuade more men to join. Representatives John J. Eagan (Democrat, 11th District, New Jersey), Fred L. Blackmon (Democrat,4th District, Alabama) and other members of Congress also approached Daniels about this.
The Naval Appropriations Act of 1916 (Public Law 241) established the United States Naval Reserve Force which was composed of six classes: Fleet Reserve, Naval Reserve, Naval Auxiliary Reserve, Naval Coastal Defense Reserve, Volunteer Navy Reserve and the Naval Reserve Flying Corps. The Act stated that any United States citizen could serve and had to enlist for four years and take the oath of office. Daniels admitted women into Class 4, the Naval Coastal Defense Reserve that allowed for the first enlistment of officers and enlisted personnel and it had the budget to pay for the new reservists.
Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, the Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, the personnel branch in the Navy Department issued his memo of March 19, 1917, to the naval districts announcing the women would be enlisted “in the ratings of Yeoman, Electrician (Radio), or in such other ratings as the commandant may consider essential to the District organization.” Eventually, 11,000 enlisted women served along with 269 enlisted women Marines and 1,713 nurses.
Women made inquiries about service in the naval reserve before the official announcement. In addition to patriotism, their interest stemmed from the Navy providing equal pay for equal work based on rank and regular employment. Like the male Sailors, their service helped to bring their loved ones home sooner and to defeat the Germans. Some women joined to honor their relatives and friends who died or were injured. Another motive was joining with a relative. Sisters Ethel Trussler Fahey and Fannie served at the P&C Depot in New York City; five of their relatives also joined the military. Some women were so excited that they enlisted before age 18. Thelma Franklin’s screening failed to discover that she was 14 years of age. Some were drawn by doing something different or continuing their family’s legacy of military service. They also thought enlisting might persuade the president and Congress to support the proposed 19th Amendment to the Constitution granting women the right to vote. Suffragettes met in the homes of future female yeoman such as Joy B. Hancock. Daniels received a postcard signed anxious that read, “I am sure your proposal to recruit women in the U.S. Navy will meet with great success. The women in this country are eager to do everything we can to help the government—they are also anxious to become citizens of the U.S.A. I hope you will help women to get the vote and women will show you what they can do. ‘Women are people.’”
Women were not drafted. Like the nurses, they volunteered. Naval service was one of several means of supporting the war. Women had several options: the Red Cross nurses at home and abroad, staffing canteens, U.S. Army switchboard operators, commonly known as the “Hello Girls,” maintaining farms, and selling liberty bonds. Thus, the naval recruiters had to compete for their attention. Applicants had to be United States citizens between 18 and 35 years of age, be physically and mentally fit, take the oath of office, and agree to serve for four years wherever the Navy stationed them. There was no Internet or 24-hour- a-day news cycle. Mass media meant the radio and print media. The Navy placed recruitment ads in national and regional newspapers including the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Chicago Tribune and in store windows and aired them on the radio. One of the more popular posters read, “If I were a man, I would enlist.” Recruiters also participated in war bond drives.
Loretta Perfectus Walsh, a native of Olyphant, Pennsylvania, and a graduate of the Scranton Lackawanna Business School in Scranton, distinguished herself as the first woman to enlist. She was employed as a civilian clerk at a Navy recruiting station in Philadelphia when she joined motivated by her family history of military service and her love for her country. Word of mouth also proved effective. When Frieda Greene’s father mentioned the announcement at their dinner table, she remarked, “That’s for me.” Another Yeoman recruit came to Washington, D.C. for a civilian job. Her parents were so concerned about their daughter being in “a dangerous place for a girl” that they insisted she live outside of the city with a cousin and her father arranged for a Navy ensign meet her at the train station. After he asked her why she had not considered enlisting, she applied. Phyllis Kelley was employed as the secretary to the Dodge Brothers Motor Company in Boston when she heard that she could apply at the Naval Reserve in the Boston Navy Yard. She began her enlistment process on her lunch hour. Margaret Mary Fitzgerald King of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, and the daughter of a U.S. Army major had a civil service job during her father’s tour in the Philippines. She enlisted in the Navy on June 7, 1918, in Portland, Oregon. Gertrude Edna Murray was working at the Globe Wernicke Company when someone called from the Fleet Supply Base across the street in South Brooklyn in desperate need of a file clerk. Chief Yeoman Murray responded to their call and went on to manage a staff of forty.
Lou McPherson Guthrie considered government work when her seventh grade teaching position at a North Carolina school ended. After getting 95 percent of the questions in the math section of the civil service examination correct, she accepted a job with the Bureau of War Risk Insurance in the Smithsonian Institution building in the nation’s capital. She welcomed the annual salary of $1,000. When she discovered that the YWCA could not accommodate her, she decided to live in one of the homes open to women workers. Secretary Daniels, cabinet members and others helped to alleviate the housing shortage by hosting civilian and military personnel. Guthrie and two friends applied when the Navy appealed for 100 women war workers to reduce the shortage of accounting workers in the Navy Yard.
Joy Bright Hancock relieved a man for duty in the Pennsylvania National Guard when she assumed his job as statistician. Captain Elmer Wood, recalled to active duty commanded the Branch Hydrographic Office of the Navy in Philadelphia. He had known Joy Bright Hancock since her childhood. He supported her effort to join by introducing her to Captain George Cooper assigned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Cooper directed her to the Naval Home to start the process. Helen O’Shaughnessy and Bell V. Dunn distinguished themselves as the first women to enlist in Charleston, South Carolina, and aboard a ship, USS Hartford, flagship of Admiral David G. Farragut.
Two or three sisters from one family enlisted as did a few mother-daughter teams, and the daughters of cabinet officers, members of Congress, and naval officers. They represented every state. The highest numbers of them came from New York at 2,329, Massachusetts at 1,324, and Virginia at 1,071. Many of these pioneers were working in related fields.
Charlotte Louise Berry Winters, a Washington, D.C. native, learned about the Yeoman (F.) after she graduated from the Washington Business High School. She was among the first women to enlist and spent the war as a clerk in the Naval Gun Factory at the Washington Navy Yard. When Winters died in 2007 at the age of 109, she was believed to be the last surviving woman WWI veteran. Elizabeth Kirk Stewart and Elizabeth Townson Campbell of D.C. enlisted on March 24, 1917, and were the first applicants to get their physical exams at the Naval Hospital at 23rd and E Streets, N.W. There were 14 African Americans among the 1,874 enlisted women assigned to Washington, D.C.
Opposition to enlisting women
Everyone did not welcome their patriotism. Parents’ beliefs about Sailors’ behavior and character made them reluctant to support their daughters’ decision. Male Sailors felt skeptical about women’s contributions and feared they would disrupt their work space and reduce efficiency. Individuals expressed their argument that women did not belong in “their service” in newspapers. Yeoman (F.) Lou MacPherson Guthrie recalled reading a retired colonel’s editorial that noted, “Preposterous! First women wanted to vote. Then Alice Roosevelt started them smoking cigarettes! Now they’re talking about being soldiers. Next thing we know they’ll be cutting off their hair and wearing pants!”  Eunice C. Dessez observed, “Old-time sailors of the day were somewhat scandalized and nonplussed by the thought that WOMEN would wear the same uniform as themselves.” Yeoman F. Lillian Budd recalled an older Sailor telling her that he would immediately request sea duty instead of serving with her.
Lieutenant Charles H. Venable, USN, recalled to active service on February 19, 1917, commanded the United States Naval Reserve Enrollment Office at 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. in Washington, D.C. His staff included male officer and enlisted personnel, Chief Yeoman Eunice C. Dessez and other Yeoman (F.), two Navy nurses, and one civilian--Mr. J. A. Dawkins. They worked 10 hour days and averaged 640 enrollments between March and September of 1918. September 1917 and August 1918 marked their lowest and highest enlistments, respectively at 17 and 1,077. The officers and men of the naval railway land batteries under Rear Admiral C.P. Plunkett, USN were among their most famous enlistees. Mr. Steve Early, who later served as President Franklin Roosevelt’s White House Press Secretary (1933-1945), sent Irene Manning of Washington, D.C. with his letter of endorsement to Lieutenant Joel W. Bunkley, USN, commanding USS Mayflower, the presidential yacht. After processing, Lieutenant Venable promptly enrolled her on March 31, 1917.
The process of joining the Navy
Enlistment was not a complicated process. Applicants had to complete an interview and a written exam usually at the recruiting station. Those with clerical experience completed a typing or stenographer test. Like their male counterparts, they were also required to be physically fit, however the logistics to accommodate them was not initially in place. Navy nurses performed some of the preliminary exams to ensure their eligibility for service but Navy doctors conducted most. This created some uncomfortable situations. After Lillian Budd told a staff member at the recruiting station she wanted to join the Navy, he immediately directed her to a closed off space and instructed her to remove her clothes. She recalled being horrified but not deterred. After a naval medical officer completed his assessment and she passed a short hand test, took her oath and began her naval service as a yeoman first class. Estelle Kemper recalled the women recruits having to stand along a hallway in towels waiting to see the doctor. This embarrassed some and made others fearful. A fellow recruit exclaimed to Kemper, “You act like you didn’t mind having no clothes on!” Trying to calm her down, she assured her that the doctors were used to seeing nudity and added, “Oh, after the first couple of times you get used to this sort of thing.” The woman misunderstood her statement. Kemper believed the doctor was so focused on his job that no one had anything to fear.
Having met all the requirements, the Navy’s newest members took the same oath as the males:
I, _____ do solemnly swear that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all enemies whomsoever; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the Rules and Articles of the Government of the Navy.
After receiving their identification card, most returned home until the Navy issued their assignment.
Salary and benefits
Their enlistment rating and rank depended on a recruit’s experience. Most enlisted as Yeoman, Master-at-Arms, or Mess Attendant Third Class. A small number entered the Navy as Chief Yeoman. Their pay was based on their rank: a Chief Yeoman earned $60; a Yeoman First Class,$40; a Yeoman Second Class,$35; Yeoman Third Class,$30 with deductions for hospitalization and war risk insurance. Since the Navy did not provide housing or a regular “chow” hall, they also received $1.25 per day for subsistence pay and a $60 clothing allowance. The Bureau of Navigation began issuing identification tags or “dog tags” to Yeoman (F.) from the new Navy building in accordance with General Order No. 294.
Working out a few administrative issues
Enlisted women in the Navy raised new administrative problems. The Navy did not have to document a Sailor’s gender until the newest reservists received orders to ships. To correct this, the Navy assigned the women to barges and other sunken naval property. It did not take long before people starting calling them by nicknames such as yeomenettes and yeowomen. Rear Admiral Samuel McGowen, the paymaster of the Navy objected stating, “These women are as much a part of the Navy as the men who have enlisted. They do the same work. . . and have done yeoman service.” Thus, naval officials designated the women as Yeoman (F.), F denoting female to distinguish them from males.
“Indoctrination was not the order of the day; one simply plunged into service cold,” Joy Bright Hancock
Just as the Navy did not plan for assessing their physical fitness, there was no preparation for their training, housing or uniforms. Training typically happened on the job and from reading the Blue Jackets Manual and mimeographed naval regulations. They learned close order drill on the National Mall after work. Without the benefit of basic training, they had to take classes designed for them at 7 p.m. at the enrollment office at 10th and Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E. The Navy discontinued the night school on 3 October 1918.
The Navy’s barracks were filled eliminating that option for the Yeoman (F.). Many lived at home and commuted to work. Some could supplement their benefits by renting a house but they were the exception. The YMCA and the private homes helped to alleviate the housing shortage but Washington simply lacked ability to host all the civilian and military people working in the nation’s war headquarters.
The enlisted women’s uniform
The female yeoman initially reported to work in their civilian attire because the Navy did not provide them with uniforms. They received their Norfolk style jacket with which they wore a dark skirt. Eventually, the Navy provided regulations for their uniforms that were deliberately designed to cover them from head to foot. The commanding officer however had final approval of the uniform worn by the Yeoman (F.). The Navy’s failure to designate one cover or hat for them is evidenced in the photos depicting the wide variety of head attire on their heads. The hats however had to have wide brims to cover their hair buns kept in place with three inch hair pins. Yeoman (F.) in factories processing munitions wore overalls. Earl Goodwin recorded samples of the criticism their uniform drew, “As for him who sneered at the uniform of these women I would almost believe him perverted mentally. The yeoman (F.) uniform is the uniform of the United States, and to have worn it in war time is the greatest service any American can perform. Whether the wearer is a man or a woman-the honor is greater than anything else I know, except the honor of dying for the country in that uniform. So if by chance anyone forgets himself far enough to sneer at the yeoman (F.) uniform, let the finger of scorn be pointed at HIM—not the uniform.”
Reporting for Duty
The Yeoman (F.) remained committed despite the Navy’s failure to establish an indoctrinations program for them. Their patriotism remained strong despite the administrative and logistical challenges or the hostile opposition they encountered. They made diverse and multiple contributions to the Allied victory working in munitions factories, as couriers, accountants, telegraph key operators, and clerks. Thirty Yeomanettes volunteered for assignments in the Navy Yard, Naval Intelligence and Cable and Postal Censorship in Hawaii. They also translated documents and designed camouflage for naval ships. Five had orders to naval hospitals in France. Yeoman (F.) Lillian Budd, took messages from naval ships and commands in shorthand, translated them and delivered them directly to President Woodrow Wilson. Marion Porter Taylor received classified ship movement reports in the Atlantic Ocean. Louise Hedtler prepared Marine Corps casualties’ personal effects and the accompanying condolence letters. The Navy assigned Maybelle M. Bond, a Philadelphia native enrolled on October 11, 1918, to the accounting department at Pier 19, Philadelphia. Mable Vanderploeg Pease enlisted in Chicago on August 20, 1918 and in the rank of Landsman processed mail at the Bureau of Navigation and later as a secretary to Riordan transmitting messages to Simsadus (Admiral William S. Sims, U.S. Navy Liaison to London). Fourteen African American Yeoman (F.) served in the muster roll office in the main Navy building in Washington, D.C. The Yeoman (F.) also supported the first trans-Atlantic Flight of NC-4 in 1919.  In addition to their regular duties, they participated in parades and welcome home ceremonies for President Wilson and Secretary of the Navy Daniels.
The Yeoman (F.) donated their time outside of working hours to participate in Liberty Bond Drives. The 1918 Influenza claimed 21 million lives around the globe. The crowded cities, shortage of medical staff, and inadequate medical facilities helped to spread the illness. Most victims succumbed to pneumonia. Yeoman (F.) volunteered to tend to the sick and to assist with the rising number of fatalities. Casualties exceeded the capacity of morgues. Eventually, 37 Yeoman (F.) died from the flu and other causes.
Reflecting on the War
Celebrations abounded when the Great War ended. The Yeoman (F.) had mixed emotions about leaving the Navy and their wartime experiences. They observed: “We had a small part in the great Allied victory;” “I loved it and felt it was doing my bit,” and “We didn’t realize it at the time, but we were trailblazers for women in the military.” Lillian Budd remarked, “I thought I was doing something for my country—I can see now how much more my country has done for me,” Estelle Kemper noted, “Having jobs and doing our ‘duty’ (as we saw it) fully compensated Yeoman (F.) in my acquaintance for their lack of money, lack of prestige, long working hours—even those uniforms—and we were sorry when the Navy gave us our ‘honorable discharges’ in 1919.” Joy Bright Hancock and Charlotte Louise Barry Winters were among the Yeoman (F.) who working for the Navy as civilians. Hancock worked at the Bureau of Aeronautics (BuAer) between the wars and helped launch the organization’s first newsletter. She later became a women’s reserve officer in 1942 and the third director of the Navy’s women reserve program, commonly known as the WAVES program. Winters retired from her civilian job with 35 years of service.
These women received high praise for their sacrifice and service: “The civil-service clerks and the men and women of the reserve yeoman branch have given excellent service. It would have been impossible to carry out the duties of any of the bureaus or offices of the Navy Department had it not been for the efficient and loyal work of these men and women. Steps should be taken to prevent the loss of civil-service clerks by reason of extension for if they are not retained on their present important duties the activities of the department will suffer seriously.” Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels commented, “I do not know how the great increase of work could have been carried out without them. I voiced thanks of the Navy in expressing ‘gratitude and appreciation of their splendid service and patriotic cooperation’ as they mustered out.”
 Chapter II Mobilization, 11, Dessez papers, Box 1; these papers are in bound five inch binders; unnumbered pages are filtered throughout the numbered pages; there are numerous photos and newspaper articles dispersed throughout the volume many of which lack citations and/or dates; the overall volume is fragile; The First Enlisted Women U.S. Navy 1917-1918, COLL 226, Dessez, Eunice C., Box 1 of 7, Archives, Building 57, Naval History and Heritage Command; this collection is the source material for Dessez’s First Enlisted Women, her published handbook for Yeoman (F.) hereafter Dessez papers
 Secretary of the Navy Annual Report 1917 under Bureau of Navigation,
 Unsigned, “Among first to enlist and the last US woman veteran of World War I,” New York Times, April 5, 2007, http://www.smh.com.au/news/obituaries/among-the-firsts-to-enlist-and-the-last-us-woman-veteran-of-world-war-I
 Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee, A Few good Women, America’s Military Women from World War I to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York, Anchor Books, 2010), 6; Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall, Crossed Currents, Navy Women in a Century of Change, Third Edition (Washington, D.C.: Brassey’s, 1999), 5
Unnumbered pages between pages 24 and 27, Dessez papers
 Statistics, 42,Chapter V, Dessez papers box 1
 Ebbert and Hall, 6-9; Susan H. Godson, Serving Proudly, A History of Women in the U. S. Navy (Maryland: Annapolis: Naval Institute Press and Washington Navy Yard, D.C.: Naval Historical Center, 2001), 61-62; Godson’s book is the first and only comprehensive academic published history of women in the United States Navy that covers nurses and non-nurses; Ebbert and Hall’s study focuses on Navy women who were not nurses. The Notebook, September 30, 1980, XLII, No. 3, Yeoman F. File, Early Records, Navy Department Library, Washington Navy Yard; the Notebook is the newsletter for the National Yeoman F. Association established in 1926 by the women reservists to preserve their history.
 Ebbert and Hall, 8.
 At the age of 101, Freida Payne spoke at the opening ceremony for the Women in Military Service for America in 1992.
 The Notebook, September 30, 1980, XLII, No.3
 Monahan and Neidel-Greenlee, 7
 Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, Veterans Day Remarks, Women in Military Service for America Memorial, November 11, 2016, https://www.defense.gov/News/Speeches-View/Article/1003737/veterans-day-remarks;Joy B. Hancock, Lady in the Navy, A Personal Reminiscence (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute, 1972), 23; Mrs. Henry F. Butler, I was a Yeoman (F) (Washington, D.C.: Naval Historical Foundation, 1967??), 3-4; Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall, 7-8; Still, 191
 Unnumbered pages, Dessez papers box 1
 “Enlisted Women in the U.S. Naval Reserve Force in World War 1,” unnumbered pages, Dessez papers box 1
 Unsigned, “Among first to enlist and the last US woman veteran of World War I,” New York Times, April 5, 2007, http://www.smh.com.au/news/obituaries/among-the-firsts-to-enlist-and-the-last-us-woman-veteran-of-world-war-I
 Unnumbered pages, Dessez papers box 1
 See Richard Miller, “The Golden Fourteen, Plus,” Minerva, about the African American Yeoman (F.)
 Evelyn M. Monahan and Rosemary Neidel-Greenlee, 6; Ebber and Hall, 8-9; Guthrie, 60
 Chapter II Mobilization, 11, Dessez papers, box 1
 Jean Gillette, “Uncle Sam’s First Woman Recruits,” The Retired Officer Magazine (July 1991), 40.
 Chapter V The Yeoman (F.), 33-47, Dessez papers, box 1
 Chapter, VIII Accomplishments, 99, Dessez papers, box 1;
 Jean Gillette, “Uncle Sam’s First Women Recruits,” The Retired Officer Magazine (July 1991), 38; Butler, 3
 Harris Lanning, Navy Department, Bureau of Navigation, Washington, N-622-B, December 12, 1918 to all Bureaus and Offices, Subject: Identification Tags, copy, Chapter VIII Accomplishments, unnumbered page, Dessez papers box 1; see a copy of General Order No 295 at
 As quoted in Godson, 62
 Hancock, 23
 Chapter VII Training, 55-56 and see typed note of October 3, 1918, “LT Jackson telephoned that night school for men and women in the naval reserve force will be closed until further notice,” without explanation, unnumbered page, Dessez papers box 1
 Earl Godwin, “Heard and Seen,” Washington, June 15, 1919, Dessez papers box 1
 “Women in the Navy, WAVES are the third group,” Bureau of Naval Personnel information Bulletin (October 1942), No. 307;The Note Book, September 30, 1980, XLII, No. 3; Jean Gillette, “Uncle Sam’s First Women Recruits,”41, The Retired Officer Magazine (July 1991); Butler, 9-10, Richard Miller, “The Golden Fourteen Plus, Minerva and Richard E. Miller post, “The black women of World War I,” September 7, 2015, https://americanwomeninwwi.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/the-black-navy-women-of-wwi/ ; Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District Volume 1, 142, Navy Department Library, Washington Navy Yard
 Chapter VIII, “The Fall of 1918, The Influenza Epidemic” Dessez papers, box 1; Carla R. Morrisey, RN, BSN, “The Influenza Epidemic of 1918,” https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/i/influenza/the-influenza-epidemic-of-1918-by-carla-r-morrisey-rn-bsn.html ; “Influenza of 1918 (Spanish Flu) and the U.S. Navy,” https://www.history.navy.mil/research/library/online-reading-room/title-list-alphabetically/i/influenza/influenza-of-1918-spanish-flu-and-the-us-navy.html
 Gillette, 42
 Butler, 13
 See Hancock, Lady in the Navy to learn more about her long association with the U.S. Navy
 Bureau of Navigation, Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy for the fiscal year 1918, 437
 Josephus Daniels, Our Navy at War (New York: George H. Duran Company), 330