Flight Training

Because of the new status of Navy women beginning in 1972, the 1970s would see expansion of the duties for women. In 1973, the first four women were selected for flight training. In this photo (left to right) are:  Lieutenant Junior Grade Barbara Allen, USN, Ensign Jane M. Skiles, USN, Lieutenant Junior Grade Judith A. Neuffer, USN, and Ensign Kathleen L. McNary, USN. Lt. Allen would become the first women to qualify as a Naval pilot, on February 22, 1974.

The Naval flight officer program was opened to women six years later.

The photograph comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

First Admiral

1972 was a milestone year for women in the Navy. Arlene Duerk, a World War II and Korean War veteran, became the Navy’s first female admiral that year. She had served as Chief of Nursing Service, Naval Hospital Great Lakes until 1970, when she was promoted to Director, Navy Nurse Corps.

This photograph comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The End of the WAVES

In 1972, the WAVES were disbanded and the “Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women in the Navy” policy was established. This greatly expanded opportunities and duties for women in the Navy, by stopping the policy of assigning women only to certain billets and equalizing training. Admiral E.R. Zumwalt was the Chief of Operations at the time.

The photograph is of Elena J. Peckenpaugh, training at the Naval Firefighting School in San Francisco in 1972. It comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command.


The Third Commander

Joy Bright Hancock, the former yeomanette, would become the third commander of the WAVES, succeeding Jean Palmer. She was appointed to her position in February of 1946, and would lead the WAVES through contractions of servicewomen in the 1940s and expansion in the 1950s.

Hancock was the WAVES leader when the women became a part of the regular Navy. She retired in 1953.

This photograph comes from the Naval History and Heritage Command.

Dorothy Stratton

Dorothy Stratton, who had been dean of women at Purdue University before the war, was a member of the first WAVE officer class in August of 1942. A few months later she was asked to head another new women’s military group: the Coast Guard SPARs (from the Coast Guard Motto Semper Paratus, Always Ready).

She said of her appointment to lead the Coast Guard:

I knew nothing about the Coast Guard, nothing. I had never seen a Coast Guard officer. I didn’t know anything. I think I felt if that was the place where I could work, that was fine with me. In other words, I only cared about being where I could feel I was doing something useful, and I thought this was something useful.

About 12,000 women served in the SPARs during World War II. They were decommissioned at war’s end, and women weren’t allowed to join the Coast Guard again until 1949.

This photograph comes from the National Archives.

Margaret Chase Smith

A mention of the WAVES wouldn’t be complete with a mention of Margaret Chase Smith. Smith was a Congresswoman during World War II (she would later become a Senator) and has been called by some “the mother of the WAVES.”

It’s a title she disavowed, but she was a strong supporter of women in military service, and was a part of the Congressional committee which expanded duties for WAVES, eventually allowing them to serve overseas. She said later:

I can only say to you that while I knew there was great reluctance and criticism, my feeling has always been that if women were to serve as men, they must accept the responsibilities as well as the privileges.  If they needed these women in spots other than those designated by the first law, then there must be very serious consideration given to the legislation for it. I think the women had a great deal to do. They had a great responsibility to uphold the dignity of women.

This photograph comes the National Archives.

The Creative Spirit

Elizabeth Reynard initially struggled in the Navy. It wasn’t that she wasn’t qualified – it was more that her creative impulses clashed often with the regimentation of military life. She was also unhappy living away from her family and friends in New York.

When the Navy decided to open a training school for women in New York in late 1942, Reynard was appointed to help develop the education program. By all accounts, her work was a huge success. She came up with the idea of bringing models of ships, sample guns and Link trainers and other equipment the women might encounter on the job for their boot camp training at Hunter College.

This newspaper clipping comes from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. It is about a commendation Reynard received for her service with the Navy.


Elizabeth Reynard is credited for being the woman who came up with the name for the WAVES. According to Virginia Gildersleeve, in her book Many a Good Crusade, the Navy wanted something that was “nautical, suitable, fool-proof, and attractive.” Reynard took up the challenge, as she wrote to Gildersleeve:

I played with those two letters [w and v] and the idea of the sea and finally came up with ‘Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service’ — W.A.V.E.S. I figure the word ‘Emergency’ will comfort the older admirals, because it implies that we’re only a temporary crisis and won’t be around for keeps.

This photograph of Reynard comes from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies.

Elizabeth Reynard

Virginia Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard College in New York, also asked one of her close personal friends to go to Washington and help work within the Navy develop a woman’s program. That woman was Elizabeth Reynard.

Reynard was a an English professor and graduate of Barnard College. She was a strange choice to lobby for a woman’s service because Reynard was by all accounts highly artistic and an unconventional thinker – not perhaps the best civilian woman to lobby for women’s military service. She moved to Washington in early 1942 and would eventually become one of the first women to join the WAVES.

This photograph comes from the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies.

The Advisory Council

Virginia Gildersleeve, Dean of Barnard College in New York, began working outside the Navy to lobby for women’s participation. She set up the Women’s Advisory Council, a group of fellow women who were leaders in education. They would continue their work during the war even after the WAVES were established, acting as a public relations outreach tool for the Navy.

This is a photograph of the Advisory Council c. 1944. It shows, l-r:  Miss Alice Baldwin, Dean of undergraduate college for women, Duke University; Emma Barton Brewser Gates, University of Pennsylvania Women’s Club (and wife of Penn’s President Thomas S. Gates); Miss Meta Glass, president of Sweet Briar College; Mrs. Wallace Notestein (Notestein was a professor at Yale); Miss Virginia Gildersleeve, Ethel Gladys Graham, wife of UCLA political science professor Malbone Graham, Congresswoman Margaret Chase Smith; Miss Alice Lloyd, dean of women at the University of Michigan; Mildred McAfee; and Lt. Cmdr. Philip A. Tague Jr.  It comes from the National Archives.