Annie Frasier Norton
Submitted by: T.J. Cullinane community historian
Annie Frasier Norton born in 1893. Annie Norton served in World War 1 with the United States Navy. The enlistment was in 1918 and the service was completed in 1918.
Story of Service
“We Conquer by Degrees”
A young New Hampshire woman who died in service remains a beloved community icon.
Yeoman (F) Second Class Annie Fraser Norton, (April 10, 1893 - October 10, 1918), is remembered in New Hampshire as the first woman from the Granite State to give her life for her country, which may not be entirely true. Be that as it may, she was without a doubt a breaker of glass ceilings and remains to this day a beloved icon in the in the town of Derry’s pantheon of heroes. The unseemly debate surrounding her demise is centered on the military status of the Army nurses that perished before her. They are currently seen as military contractors and thus, rightly or wrongly, not eligible for the accolades reserved for those who died as sworn members of the armed forces.
This controversy should in no way distract from the enormous contribution Annie and her fellow “Yeomanettes” made to the ultimate victory of the United States and the Allies during the First World War. As we examine Annie’s upbringing, it would seem that service to a greater good was somewhat of a tradition in the Frasier family.
Anne Frasier was born in East Boston, Massachusetts, to Charles Warren Frasier, a steam engine driver for the Boston Fire Department and the former Catharine Walsh. Sadly for Anne and her younger sister Ethel, Catharine passed away when Anne was but nine and her sister only a year old. This tragedy was compounded by Anne’s father being hurt on the job. These twin crises precipitated a move to Derry, New Hampshire where her father took a job in a well-established shop.
The young Anne, who by this time preferred to call herself Annie, was enrolled in Pinkerton Academy where she would excel, flourishing under the guidance of teachers like the poet Robert Frost, an icon in his own right who would go on to win four Pulitzer prices. Annie graduated with honors from the Pinkerton Academy Class of 1911. Of course at that time, she had no idea how prophetic her class motto, “We Conquer by Degrees”, would one day be.
Unlike many of her peers, Annie continued her education and matriculated at Bryant and Stratton Business College in Boston. The skills gained here, combined with her affable personality, would play a key role in her future military career. Not long after finishing business school, Annie was married to Edwin Asa Norton, one of her former classmates at Pinkerton. The couple lived as far afield as Schenectady, New York before finally settling in Manchester where Edwin found work in a brokerage firm.
When the United States entered the First World War, Edwin enlisted in the U.S. Army and was sent to the field artillery officer candidate school at Fort Zachary Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky. Not content to sit around and wait for her man to come home, Annie traveled to Portsmouth, New Hampshire and joined the newly established Naval Coast Defense Reserve on August 10, 1918. She was 26 years old.
Desperate for the manpower needed to expand a grossly under strength Navy, the irascible Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels could find no prohibitions in the Naval Act of 1916 that would prevent women from joining the sea service. Thus it was that the Navy began recruiting what were to become popularly known as the “Yeomanettes” on March 19, 1917. Enlisted for the standard four years, Annie and her fellow recruits were utilized as “radio operators, stenographers, nurses, messengers, and chauffeurs, etc…” The women sailors were rated as yeomen and electricians and designated as Yeomen (F) for female Yeomen.
Not long after arranging her billeting in Portsmouth, Annie was signed to the Commandant’s office as a stenographer and secretary. The newly appointed Commandant, Commander John W. Lewis, was desperate for the professional skills the highly skilled Annie could provide. Lewis, a former submarine commander, was typically charged with commanding a single vessel with a crew of 28 men. With the outbreak of the war, he suddenly found himself catapulted to a position crucial to the war effort that was normally held by a senior captain or rear admiral. Charged with the oversight of 5,000 sailors and civilian workers, Lewis, once a submarine skipper, would now be responsible for manufacturing submarines to support the war effort. By surrounding himself with highly competent personnel like Annie, Lewis was able to succeed in his mission and would ultimately take command of one of the submarines built during his tenure as the commandant.
Much to the sorrow of all who knew her, Annie’s service would be cut short by the deadly and fast moving influenza epidemic that would further decimate a world population that had already absorbed grievous war casualties. Annie took ill on October 9, 1918 and died the next day. The war would be over in just a month.
Annie’s body was escorted to Massachusetts where she was buried with full military honors next to her mother. One of the escorts was a Yeomanette by the name of Beatrice M. Tuttle. Many years later, Beatrice would end her days in Derry.
While the window of opportunity for Annie and her fellow Yeomanettes was relatively brief, there is no mistaking the tremendous impact they had on the American society. Counted among their many contributions are the following:
- They replaced men in shore establishments and shipyards and strengthened the fleet by releasing 10,000 men who would have otherwise been unavailable.
- The Yeomanettes created the precedence that gave rise to the Woman’s auxiliary formations of the Second World War to include the WAVES, WACs, and SPARS.
- Annie and her shipmates helped pass the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote by opening the minds of men to women’s abilities.
Today of course, women fly FA-18 jet fighters off the decks off the decks of nuclear powered aircraft carriers and are routinely promoted to flag rank. None of this would have been possible however without the efforts of Annie and the Yeomanettes who paved the way by proving they could contribute to America’s defense. No matter what the outcome of the sad debate of who perished first, Annie Frasier Norton will always occupy a special place in the hearts of Derry, New Hampshire’s proud citizens.
There is no doubting whatsoever that Annie truly lived up to her Pinkerton Class motto, “We Conquer by Degrees.”