Glendale "Bugler" - 60 Years for WAVES

"Is there any law that says a yeoman [clerk] must be a man?," asked Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels in 1916. When he got "no" for an answer, he directed: "Then enroll women in the Naval Reserve as yeomen, and we will have the best clerical assistance the country can provide."

That was then. Thank goodness, we've come a long way since then!

But following Daniels comments, on March 19, 1917, women were enrolled in the Naval Coast Defense Reserve, as part of the Naval Reserve force. They were authorized to work in the ratings of yeoman, electrician [radio] and "such other ratings as the Commandants considered essential to the District organization." The outbreak of World War I in April 1917 sped up the recruitment of women in order to release enlisted men for active service.

By war's end, 11,275 female yeomen were in naval service. All these women were released from active duty on July 31, 1919. Between World Wars I and II, the Naval Reserve acts of 1925 and 1938 limited the Naval Reserve to "male citizens of the United States" (unlike the legislation enacted in World War I). In 1941, foreseeing crucial manpower shortages should the United States enter World War II, the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics initiated a study to determine war manpower needs and which jobs women might do. The Navy used this study in planning how it would deploy women when the next war came, but no action could be taken until the Naval Reserve acts were amended. After legislation creating the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) in late 1941, Congress passed the Navy Women's Reserve Act, which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt 60 years ago today, on July 30, 1942. This legislation created the Women's Reserve, known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

The first director of the WAVES was Mildred McAfee, president of Wellesley College and later a Navy captain. McAfee was sworn in as a lieutenant commander, the highest rank then allowed women, and became the first permanent woman officer of the armed forces. Two days later, Elizabeth Reynard was sworn in as a lieutenant, the second permanent officer. She is the one who earlier coined the name WAVES, when on loan from Barnard College to assist in getting the Women's Reserve organized and functioning.

By the end of World War II, over 100,000 women had served as WAVES at 900 naval shore facilities. Eighty percent of the mail service for the fleet was handled by WAVES, and 75 percent of the staff members of "Radio Washington," nerve center of the Navy communication system, were WAVES. Other duties mostly managed by Navy women included logistics support to the fleet, pay and accounting. WAVES staffed at least four stateside aircraft control towers, and many others provided instrument flight training to 4,000 men each day. Their service released an estimated 50,500 men for duty overseas or afloat. With the July 30, 1948, signing of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act by President Harry S. Truman, WAVES between the ages of 20 and 31 could apply to enter the regular Navy in active or reserve status. Although women were achieving great success, it was not without restrictions. Women could constitute no more than 2% of the total force, and officers were limited to 10% of that 2%. As non-traditional duty for women became conventional, the next generation of Navy women opened new doors in naval service.

Once called "Yeomanettes," "Lady Sailors," and even "Yeowomen," female officers and enlisted are now an integral and important part of the U.S. Navy in every aspect of military service.

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