Special Message

As the war was ending, WAVE leader Mildred McAfee offered this missive to WAVES in mid-1945. It was then that she took a leave of absence to get married (and return to her post at Wellesley College; she would officially resign from the WAVES in 1946.
This clipping comes from Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe College.


The Leader

Even though the WAVES were established on July 30, 1942, it would take a few days after that formal declaration for Mildred McAfee to be sworn in as leader. The official enlist date of the former Wellesley President was August 3, 1943.

In this image, Adm. Ernest King expresses his approval of the job being done by members of the Women’s Reserve to Capt. Mildred McAfee on the secondd anniversary of the WAVES. More than 70,000 were on duty at the time – nearly three times the number from just a year before. It comes from 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.