When I read today about the USS Gabrielle Giffords being commissioned, I wondered how many Navy ships actually had been named after women. I know that naming civilian ships after women is common, but Navy vessels seem to have a different nomenclature (I think of all the World War II-era ships named after states, for instance).
So the history buff in me began looking at Navy history.
While there had been a handful of female-named military ships prior to the Civil War, it was the Harriet Lane to become the first armed ship in the U.S. Navy named after a woman. The steamer was named after President James Buchanan’s niece, and was first launched in 1857. She was captured by Confederate forces in 1863 in Texas.
The Navy had five transport ships during World War II, all named after women: the USS Dorothea L. Dix, the USS Elizabeth C. Stanton, the USS Florence Nightengale, the USS Lyon (named for Mary Lyon) and the USS Susan B. Anthony. There were also several harbor tugs active during the war named after Native American women: the USS Pocahontas, the USS Sacagawea, and the USS Watseka.
But it was the USS Higbee that really caught my attention. The Gearing-class destroyer was named for Lenah S. Higbee, superintendent of the Navy Nurse Corps fro 1911-1922. The ship was the first combat vessel commissioned for a woman who had served in the Navy. She was commissioned in 1945, served in three wars, and was decommissioned in 1979. A newly-ordered ship, the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, will be a Arleigh-Burke class destroyer.
In 1996, the Navy paid tribute to another of its female enlistees. The USS Hopper is named for former WAVE and computer genius Grace Murray Hopper, who remained in the Navy after World War II and helped lead it into the digital age.
Another ordered ship will pay tribute to astronaut Sally Ride.
The Giffords isn’t the only current ship named after a politician. The USS Roosevelt, a destroyed launched in 1999, is named after both former President Franklin Roosevelt and former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.