Hawaii was a Pacific territory during World War II. But it wasn’t the manicured beaches and tourism mecca that we know today.

It was a territory, and it was laid back, you have to understand, very very primitive.  Primitive.  Kamaiamaia Highway was a dirt road and everything.

– Patricia Farrington Siegner, WAVE

This photo shows WAVES disembarking from their transport ship in January of 1945. It comes from the National Archives.

Packing Up

WAVES received “seabags” (Navy-issued duffel bags) for their voyage on the ship to Hawaii.

In this photo, WAVES Ava Barton and Marcella Fisher get some last minute packing instructions from Lt. Margaret  Kuechle before shipping out in January of 1945.

It comes from the National Archives.

Albert D. J. Cashier

On August 3, 1862, a nineteen-year-old Irish immigrant named Albert D. J. Cashier, enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry. Cashier fought in about forty battles and served until August of 1865.

It wasn’t until 1913 that Cashier, then living in the Quincy, Illinois, Soldiers’ Home, was discovered to actually be a woman. A 1915 deposition from a fellow soldier held by the National Archives found that the deception was extensive, aside from being the shortest person in the company, there was no other indication that Cashier was female.

Cashier died the following year in an insane asylum.

This image comes from the Illinois State Historical Library and the National Archives.

Sarah Edmonds Seelye

Another Civil War cross-dresser was Sarah Edmonds. She assumed the alias of Franklin Thompson and served with the Union Army. She was a nurse and dispatch carrier.

Edmonds ended up deserting her duties. She had contracted malaria and feared she would be revealed as a woman when she was hospitalized. Nonetheless, she ended up receiving a military pension because of her service. Seelye married L.H. Seelye, raised three children, and died in 1898 in Texas.

This image comes from the State Archives of Michigan and the National Archives.

Civil War Battlefields

Like the American Revolution, some women dressed as men in order to serve in the Civil War. Post-war estimates put the number at about 400, but even at the time Mary Livermore with the U.S. Sanitary Commission wrote:

I am convinced that a larger number of women disguised themselves and enlisted in the service, for one cause or other, than was dreamed of. Entrenched in secrecy, and regarded as men, they were sometimes revealed as women, by accident or casualty. Some startling histories of these military women were current in the gossip of army life.

One of those women was Frances Clayton, who dressed as a man and served many months in the Missouri artillery and cavalry units. The image comes from the Trustees of the Boston Public Library and the National Archives.

The Leader Resigns

Mildred McAfee would lead the WAVES until August of 1945. During that time, she amassed some pretty impressive military firsts:

  • First female line officer in the Navy (1942)
  • First WAVES Director (1942-1945)
  • First female Navy Captain (1944)
  • Recipient of the Distinguished Service Medal

After she resigned as Director of the WAVES, McAfee would remain active duty until February of 1946.

McAfee met and married the Reverend Dr. Douglas Horton while in the Navy and changed her name to Mildred McAfee Horton. After she left the WAVES, she would first return to the Presidency of Wellesley College, where she would remain until 1948. After she left Wellesely, she became involved with the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches. McAfee also served as a UNESCO delegate, was on the board of directors of the New York Life Insurance Company, the National Broadcasting Company, Radio Corporation of America, and the Ford Foundation’s Fund for the Advancement of Education. She later co-chaired the National Women’s Conference on Civil Rights.

This photograph comes from the Naval Historical Center.

Mildred McAfee

Mildred McAfee attended Vassar College in New York, where she studied economics, sociology and English. She was also active in team sports (hockey and basketball), the Christian association, and student government. She earned an M.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago.

McAfee spent 14 years working in various collegiate administration positions (including Dean of College Women at Oberlin College) before being selected as President of Wellesley College in 1936. She beat out 100 other candidates for the job. She was just 36 years old.

She told Wellesley students:

I envision the function of this college, or any college, to prepare an oncoming generation of students to disseminate truth. It is my conviction that truth is more easily given a hearing if it’s presented by a healthy, well-adjusted, effective human being who see truth in the light of a word philosophy that gives it meaning.

McAfee wasn’t the first female president of Wellesley (that would be Ada Howard, who was also the first president of the school.)

This photograph shows Mildred McAfee (left) with Rear Admiral A. E. Watson and Margaret Disert in August of 1942. It comes from the Naval Historical Center.

Women’s History Month!

March is Women’s History Month, and we decided that our blog a day will feature firsts or other accomplishments by the WAVES.  Please let us know if there’s something you’d like to know more about, or would like to see featured this month.

We begin with Mildred McAfee. She’s a pretty special woman to the WAVES we’ve talked with on this project. She was the leader of the WAVES for most of World War II.

McAfee was the daughter of a pastor and the President of Wellesley College before being asked to lead the WAVES. She said at the time that the Navy brass told her:

The Navy is going to admit women into the regular positions in the Navy. There’s not going to be any separateness about this. You’re going to be really in the Navy. That sounded very good to me and I used it all the rest of the way through the war.

McAfee was the first Navy female line officer in 1942 and was appointed a Navy Captain in late 1943 – the only WAVE Captain at the time.

We salute Ms. Mac!

This photograph comes from the Naval Historical Center.