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Women Divers: Part of the Navy Team

Tradition and equipment discouraged women from becoming divers. Navy divers were exclusively male for over one hundred years. Dive gear, designed to fit men, was heavy and oversized for female divers. Hull Technician Donna Tobias made history in 1975 when she graduated from the Navy's Deep Sea Diving School as the Navy's first female hard hat diver. "She had to prove herself, to be twice as good at everything, and she was," remembered retired Master Diver Steven Lechner.

This exhibit examines the challenges and achievements of some of the first women Navy divers. Through determination, persistence, and a love of diving, these early pioneers proved themselves in a male-dominated world to become valued, respected members of the diving community.

"Babe, what do you want to be a diver for?"

Women became Navy divers for many reasons. Some had loved the water as children. TV shows such as Sea Hunt captured the interest of others. Some women, after they joined the Navy, became fascinated with the work the divers did. And some wanted a career where the standards for women were the same as those for men.

Click photograph for a larger image.

Tender securing Mary Bonnins Mark V breastplate

Mary Bonnin became interested in diving when working at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. A dive school slot became available to her unit when a male sailor decided not to go. A Chief Warrant Officer told Mary, "You couldn't do it. Babe, what do you want to be a diver for? You'll be thrown out of that school in a week." His challenge made her determined to succeed.

Debra Bodenstedt awaiting a dive

"When I first came into the program there weren't many sea billets available to women and this was one way to get to go to sea."

Debra Bodenstedt

Linda Hubbell training a dolphin

"It was like being a visitor in another world. I loved working in the water. I love the oceans, the marine life, the entire experience...still to this day."

Linda Hubbell

Marie Knafelc wearing a Mark V diving rig

"Every summer, come Memorial Day, no matter how cold and bleak it was in western Pennsylvania, my mother would take us children to the ...swimming pool...Then came the TV show Sea Hunt...and the seeds were sown."

Marie Knafelc

Bette Bush awaiting a dive

"When I was 8 years old, I was a near-drowning victim and had to be resuscitated. From then on, I told myself I would conquer both the seas and my fear of the seas by learning more and becoming part of the underwater environment. I took swimming lessons and gradually eased my way back into the water...and eventually earned a degree in oceanography."

Bette Bush

Karin Lynn checking her SCUBA air tanks

"A friend wanted to take lessons and needed a buddy, so I went through the dive lessons with him and got qualified and then found out I really enjoyed it."

Karin Lynn

Karen Kohanowich wearing a Mark V diving rig

"What really got me into diving was that the standards for women were the same [as for men]. Women had to do the same number of sit-ups and push-ups. They had to climb up and down the dive ladders wearing the same 200-pound Mark V dive system."

Karen Kohanowich

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