Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

The first really large-scale employment of women as Naval personnel took place to meet the severe clerical shortages of the World War I era. The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 had conspicuously omitted mention of gender as a condition for service, leading to formal permission to begin enlisting women in mid-March 1917, shortly before the United States entered the "Great War". Nearly six hundred Yeomen (Female) were on duty by the end of April 1917, a number that had grown to over eleven thousand in December 1918, shortly after the Armistice.


The Yeomen (F), or "Yeomanettes" as they were popularly known, primarily served in secretarial and clerical positions, though some were translators, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, ship camouflage designers and recruiting agents. Five went to France with Naval hospital units and a modest number of others were stationed in Puerto Rico, Guam, Hawaii and the Panama Canal Zone. However, the great majority were assigned duties at Naval installations in the Continental United States, frequently near their homes, processing the great volume of paperwork generated by the war effort.


Yeomen (F), all of whom held enlisted ranks, continued in service during the first months of the post-war Naval reductions. Their numbers declined steadily, reaching just under four thousand by the end of July 1919, when they were all released from active duty. Yeomen (F) were continued on inactive reserve status, receiving modest Retainer Pay, until the end of their four-year enlistments, at which point all women except Navy Nurses disappeared from the uniformed Navy until 1942.


Many honorably discharged Yeomen (F) were appointed to Civil Service positions in the same Navy Yards and Stations where they had served in wartime. Entitled to veterans' preference for Government employment, they provided a strong female presence in the Navy's civilian staff through the decades after World War I. One former Yeoman (F), who had risen in rank to Chief Petty Officer while in uniform and became a Bureau of Aeronautics civilian employee afterwards, was Joy Bright Hancock. During World War II, she became one of the first women Naval officers, and, with the rank of Captain, was the director of the WAVES during the late 1940s and early 1950s.