A U.S. Navy with Women: Stronger, More Efficient and More Capable
By Dr. Regina T. Akers
via the Naval History and Heritage Command web site
Editor’s note: ‘Why We Do What We Do’ is an initiative CNO Richardson asked the Naval History and Heritage Command to help share with the fleet. Each month, our historians will dissect a seminal moment in our Navy’s past and then highlight the lessons we learned. The purpose, is to ground today’s Sailors in their history and heritage by explaining the reasons behind some of today’s seemingly mundane or routine activities and actions.
The Navy’s First Enlisted Women, 1917-1918
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels began preparing for the United States’ entry into World War I before Congress declared war in April 1917. While assessing the administrative, material, personnel, strategic other requirements, Daniels discovered that the Civil Service Department could not provide an adequate number of workers. He was delighted to learn, however, that there were no legal barriers to recruiting women, as the Naval Reserve Act of 1916 permitted any U.S. citizen to serve. Rear Admiral Leigh C. Palmer, Chief of the Bureau of Navigation, announced via his 19 March 1917 memo that the Navy was enlisting women for primarily clerical duties. Loretta Perfectus Walsh of Olyphant, PA distinguished herself as the first female enlistee.
The recruitment of women began soon afterwards without thorough planning, leaving the Bureau of Navigation with administrative hurdles. For the first time the Navy had to designate gender, give a large number of women physical exams, and provide women with uniforms and housing. The bureau identified female yeomen as Yeoman (F.), the “F” indicating gender. Since they did not attend basic training, the Navy taught female recruits how to drill, how the Navy operated, and the requirements for enlisted personnel in the evenings after their work day. Insufficient housing and no access to mess halls led the Navy to pay the women stipends to supplement those expenses.
Read the entire article on the Naval History and Heritage Command web site.
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