Part of the WAVES recruitment efforts were to show the experiences of women in the Navy, and boot camp was no exception. This photo essay followed one woman, Maria Ramona Espinosa, through boot camp at Hunter College.
In this photo, she arrives at the gate of the Navy facility, dressed in her civilian clothes. The caption reads:
Maria Ramona Espinosa goes thru some of the steps necessary to become a WAVE at Hunter College, Bronx, N.Y. Arriving at school she gets her first directions from a Shore Patrolman at the gate.
When women were stationed at the Hunter College boot camp, they received a map as part of their orientation packet. The map showed where the key buildings were, and included the surrounding apartment buildings.
This copy of the map comes from the collection of WAVE Margaret Anderson Thorngate. It shows the path she would take from the building where her quarters were located (Building D, a former apartment complex) to the Mess Hall, where meals were served.
Hunter College was established in 1870 as part of New York City’s public university system. It was located on the Upper East Side of New York City. The Bronx campus (now known as Lehman College) first opened in the 1930s; by this time Hunter had locations in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island as well.
The Bronx campus remained under Navy jurisdiction until 1945. Then it briefly housed the United Nations, before being returned to the Hunter College system in 1946.
Hunter was the women’s college of the system through the 1950s. The Bronx campus was one of the first to go co-educational, and the entire system allowed women by 1964, The Bronx campus was renamed Lehman College in 1968.
Virginia Gilmore was married when she joined the WAVES in 1943. Her husband was a handsome Marine. But in their first Christmas as a married couple they were thousands of miles apart. He was just back from a two-and-a-half year stint in the Pacific, stationed at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington. Virginia was at the other end of the country at WAVE boot camp in Hunter College.
We were there on Christmas Eve. And huge Navy trucks pulled up and they unloaded a filled stocking for every recruit and hung them — they came in and hung them on the corner of our bunks.
We had candy and gum and cookies and little presents. Can you imagine all the thousands — I don’t know what the Navy word is for Navy warehouse, but Navy stores where you could find all those things but we had them.
In the spring of 1943 Hunter College in the Bronx, N.Y. (now Lehman College), opened a WAVES training school. Women were sent here for boot camp where they learned things like Naval history and marching. They also took placement tests to find out which Navy jobs best suited their skills.
Homefront Heroines is experimenting with a new model of storytelling. We’re creating exhibits geotagged with the location of various locations important to the WAVES, like Hunter College, its buildings and surrounding apartments, with TagWhat – as discussed in this previous post. The posts will include video footage, interviews and interesting stories about the WAVES.
Irene Bendnekoff is one of the women we’re featuring:
So what does this mean? Check out the full exhibit here, or download the TagWhat app on your smartphone, head to the Bronx. The exhibit will pop up on your phone – you can see the WAVES’ story while your at a location important to the WAVES! We love this method of storytelling and would love to know what you think.
Learn about the placement process, training facilities, and hear the stories of many of these WAVES in this Specialty Training exhibit.
Eileen had a moment of doubt when she was in boot camp. She remembers waking up at Hunter College in New York to a particularly rainy and overcast morning. The WAVES were marching to breakfast wearing “havelocks.” (A havelock is a covering, pictured below, that hangs down from a military hat for protection in rain or sun. Eileen calls it, “rain gear.”) She questioned her decision to enlist for a moment that morning.
“Clump clump clump. We probably looked like we were nuns from the nunnery or something. You know, dark clothes, marching along. And I looked over at the – there was the El train you know, high. You could see the lights of it. And I thought to myself, “What on earth did I sign up for? What did I think I was doing? Marching along at this ungodly hour to get breakfast? … And that was the one time when I wondered why I was where I was.”
Navy WAVES, pictured above, marching in Cambridge, Mass. (US Navy photograph)
First “chow” is served by the Red Cross at the Hunter College campus, as the facility is placed in service as the basic training center for Navy and Coast Guard women, 8 February 1943. (US Navy photograph)