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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.

Infographic showing images and dates ranging from 1862 to 2014.

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, during World War I

Long view of a building interior with personnel sitting at desks and standing.

Military and civilian personnel of the Supplies and Accounts office in the Main Navy or Munitions Buildings, circa 1918.

Formal portrait of an older woman in uniform and cover with American flag in background.

Commodore Grace M. Hopper, USNR

Painting of a Navy nurse with single color dark background.

LT (j.g.) Ann Bernatitus, (NC), USN.

Group portrait of women in three rows.

WAVE Aviation Metalsmiths

A female pilot in the cockpit of her aircraft.

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

Infographic showing two portraits and associated text.

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

A portrait of a woman wearing a World War I uniform.

Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, (NC) USN

Two women in uniform learning over a suitcase in a dorm room.

Lieutenant (j.g.) 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

Women in white uniforms walking in profile with cityscape in the background.

WAVES Walking In Front of the NYC Skyline

Female U.S. Navy pilot standing in front of an aircraftwith 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: Thu Jun 27 09:18:40 EDT 2024