A WAVES Photographer's Mate 3rd Class

The WAVES were a World War II-era division of the U.S. Navy that consisted entirely of women. The name of this group is an acronym for "Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service"[1] (as well as an allusion to ocean waves); the word "emergency" implied that the acceptance of women was due to the unusual circumstances of the war and that at the end of the war the women would not be allowed to continue in Navy careers. The official title was US Naval Reserve (Women's Reserve), but the title of WAVES stuck.

The WAVES began in August 1942, when Mildred McAfee, President of Wellesley College, was sworn in as a Naval Reserve Lieutenant Commander, the first female commissioned officer in U.S. Navy history, and the first director of the WAVES. This occurred two months after the WAAC (Women's Auxiliary Army Corps) was established and Eleanor Roosevelt convinced Congress to authorize a women's component of the Navy.

Women entering as enlisted personnel in the Navy or Coast Guard attended the V10 WAVE Enlisted Rating Volunteer Program. Women seeking to be officers in the WAVES or SPARS attended the V9 WAVE Officer Candidate Volunteer Program. Officer candidates went through Basic Training rated as Seamen Recruits, then became Midshipmen during Officer Training, and graduated as Ensigns. WAVE Graduates from the V9 and V10 programs were considered part of the US Naval Reserve.

An important distinction between the WAAC and the WAVES was the fact that the WAAC was an "auxiliary" organization, serving with the Army, not in it. From the very beginning, the WAVES were an official part of the Navy, and its members held the same rank and ratings as male personnel. They also received the same pay and were subject to military discipline. The WAAC became the Women's Army Corps (WAC) in July, 1943, giving its members military status similar to that of the WAVES.

WAVES could not serve aboard combat ships or aircraft, and initially were restricted to duty in the continental United States. Late in World War II, WAVES were authorized to serve in certain overseas U.S. possessions, and a number were sent to Hawaii. The war ended before any could be sent to other locations.

Within their first year the WAVES were 27,000 strong. A large proportion of the WAVES did clerical work but some took positions in the aviation community, Judge Advocate General's Corps, medical professions, communications, intelligence, storekeeper, science and technology.

The WAVES did not initially accept African-American women into the division. In November 1944, Harriet Ida Pickens and Frances Wills graduated from the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (Women's Reserve) at Northampton, Massachusetts, became the first female African-American WAVE officers. From the fall of 1944 onwards, the Navy trained roughly one black woman for every 36 white women enlisted in the WAVES; this was about 2.77%, below the 10% cap agreed upon by the armed services in 1940.

With the passage of the Women's Armed Services Integration Act (Public Law 625) on June 12, 1948, women gained permanent status in the armed services. To reflect this, the V9 and V10 Volunteer Reserve programs were discontinued and renamed the W9 Women's Officer Training and W10 Women's Enlisted Training programs. Although the WAVES now officially ceased to exist, the acronym was in common use well into the 1970s.

The first six enlisted women to be sworn into the regular Navy on July 7, 1948 were Kay Langdon, Wilma Marchal, Edna Young, Frances Devaney, Doris Robertson and Ruth Flora.

On October 15, 1948, the first eight women to be commissioned in the regular Navy, Joy Bright Hancock, Winifred Quick Collins, Ann King, Frances Willoughby, Ellen Ford, Doris Cranmore, Doris Defenderfer, and Betty Rae Tennant took their oaths as naval officers.[2]

WAVES recruitment poster


List of Directors

Target practice on Treasure Island, using .22 caliber training pistols

The director held the position of Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel for Women during the years of 1942-1972. In 1972, the office was disestablished in favor of integration of women into the main force. There still remained, however, the office of Bureau of Personnel Special Assistant for Women's Policy] (PERS-00W), which existed until 1991.[3]

      • Captain Mildred McAfee Horton   ( 1942 –   1946)
      • Captain Jeanne T. Palmer   ( 1946 –   1946)
      • Captain Joy Bright Hancock   ( 1946 –   1953)
      • Captain Louise K. Wilde   ( 1953 –   1957)
      • Captain Winifred Collins   ( 1957 –   1962)
      • Captain Viola B. Sanders   ( 1962 –   1966)
      • Captain Rita Lenihan   ( 1966 –   1970)
      • Captain Robin L. Quigley   ( 1970 –   1972)

WAVES song

Male sailor and two WAVES, on board USS Uhlmann (DD-687), 1950

The WAVES kept the homefront affairs of the US Navy going while the men were assigned to ships serving around the globe. While the official song of the US Navy men was "Anchors Aweigh", the WAVES official song was sung in counterpoint to the men:

WAVES of the Navy
WAVES of the Navy,
There's a ship sailing down the bay.
And she won't slip into port again
Until that Victory Day.
Carry on for that gallant ship
And for every hero brave
Who will find ashore, his man-sized chore
Was done by a Navy WAVE.[4]

Music and words to this and other songs sung by the WAVES can be found in Marching to Victory,[5] a 1943 booklet published at the Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School (WR), Northampton, Massachusetts.

See also


Further reading

  • Ebbert, Jean and Marie-Beth Hall (1999). Crossed Currents: Navy Women from WWI to Tailhook [Revised]. Washington, D.C.: Brassey's. ISBN 978-1574881936. 
  • Hancock, Joy Bright Captain, U.S. Navy (Retired) (1972). Lady in the Navy A Personal Reminiscence. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. ISBN 0-87021-336-9. 
  • Collins, Winifred Quick Captain, U.S. Navy (Retired) with Herbert M. Levine (1997). More Than A Uniform: A Navy Woman in a Navy Man's World. Denton, TX: University of North Texas Press. ISBN 1-57441-022-9. 
  • Holme, Jeanne Maj Gen, USAF (Ret) (1972). Women in the Military: An Unfinished Revolution [Revised Edition]. Novato, CA: Presidio Press. ISBN 0-089141-450-9. 

External links

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