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RTR3ZQ40Rear Adm. Victor Blue (left center), Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, inspects Yeomen (F) on the Washington Monument grounds, Washington, D.C., in 1918.(NHHC Collection)

“Yeomanettes” Paved the Way for Women of All Navy Ratings Today 

By YN1 Silvia Raya and YN2 Waltesia Crudup
via the Sextant web site

In order to fill severe clerical shortages caused by World War I, the U.S. Navy approved the enlistment of women in 1917. The Naval Reserve Act of 1916 made no specific gender requirements for yeomen, enlisted personnel who fulfill administrative and clerical duties.

So either by deliberate omission or accident, the act opened the opportunity to enlist women 97 years ago this week. One of the first through the door on March 17, 1917 was Loretta Perfectus Walsh, who became the first active-duty female in the Navy who wasn’t a nurse. Four days later, March 21, 1917, she was the first female to be named a chief petty officer. On April 6, 1917, Congress approved President Woodrow Wilson’s request to declare war against Germany.

The newly-enlisted Sailors were given the rating Yeoman (F), with the “F” designating female. More popularly referred to as “yeomanettes,” the majority worked in clerical positions, but they also served as translators, draftsmen, fingerprint experts, ship camouflage designers and recruiting agents.

Nearly 600 Yeomen (F) were on duty by the end of April 1917, a number that had grown to more than 11,000 by December 1918, shortly after the Armistice.

After the war, many “yeomanettes” continued in their positions during the post-war naval reductions. By the end of July 1919, there were just under 4,000 left in service, and all were released from active duty to return to their more traditional roles before the war.

Yeomen (F) continued on inactive reserve status, receiving modest retainer pay, until the end of their 4-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.

Read the entire article on the Sextant web site.

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